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Students take up case of imprisoned Egyptian blogger


Last week, as many Americans were celebrating the victory of Barack Obama, Heather Klink and a group of her classmates at Roger Williams University staged a vigil to protest the continued imprisonment of the Egyptian blogger known as Kareem Amer.

Klink, a senior, says she learned about Amer's case after taking PEN, a class taught by novelist Adam Braver in which students discuss the plight of imprisoned writers. As a result, some of her classmates and she launched a group, Pens of Peace, to agitate on the same issue.

The Guardian reported on Amer's case in 2007:

An Egyptian blogger was today sentenced to four years in prison for insulting Islam and the country's president, Hosni Mubarak, in the country's first prosecution of a blogger.

Abdel Kareem Nabil, a 22-year-old former student at Egypt's al-Azhar university, an Islamic institution, had pleaded innocent to all charges, and human rights groups had called for his release. ....

Amnesty International said the conviction was a "slap in the face of freedom expression" and called Nabil a "prisoner of conscience" who had peacefully expressed his views. It called for his immediate, unconditional release.

The campaign group said crackdowns on bloggers in Egypt and elsewhere had become the "new front in the battle between those who want to speak out and those who would stop them".

Nabil, who used the blogger name Kareem Amer, had sharply criticised his college on his blog, which is in Arabic, calling it "the university of terrorism" and accusing it of suppressing free thought.

Klink says she was part of a group of about 14 students and 10 faculty members who staged a vigil at RWU last Thursday on Amer's behalf.

"It is the kind of case that everyone should be interested in," she tells me, "especially students," since Amer was 22 when he was arrested. As a creative writing major, Klink says, the prospect of being imprisoned for writing something "really hits close to home for me, as it should for all students here."

Klink says Pens for Peace has focused on trying to raise awareness about Amer's case, to get more people involved, and that it plans next semester to try to involve some of Rhode Island's elected officials. Egypt is a major recipient of US foreign aid, so human-rights activists hope that increased pressure could have an impact.

"My concern is that by imprisoning Kareem Amer, they're setting an example," Klink says, and if this goes unchallenged, it will have negative consequences for free speech in Egypt and possibly elsewhere.

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