Thursday, December 2, 2010

Franks Urges Egyptian Gov't to Ensure Ongoing Freedom of Recently Released Blogger

Congressman Trent Franks (R-AZ) has joined Representatives Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Emmanuel Cleaver (D-MO) in sending a letter to the Egyptian Ambassador to the U.S. welcoming the release of Egyptian blogger Abdel Kareem Soleiman Amer and calling on the Egyptian government to ensure Mr. Soleiman and others in Egypt are guaranteed the freedom to express themselves in the future, especially on matters of religion and politics.

Franks commented that, “The Egyptian Government tried to sentence Kareem without fair warning but soon realized that the world would not allow them to ‘get rid of him’ that easily.” Franks continued, “If the Egyptian government shares our country’s commitment to human freedom and democracy, then I sincerely hope they begin to take appropriate steps to amend the laws plaguing their society that stifle the freedoms of expression and religion and allow people like Kareem to express themselves freely.” Franks also added, “The Egyptian government’s actions are deeply misplaced. Bloggers are not threatening democracy there, religious extremism is. Until the Egyptian government does something to address the issues Kareem and others have raised, rising Islamic extremism will continue to threaten indigenous religious communities in Egypt and the country’s own national security.” Franks added, “I am deeply troubled that over four years since Kareem raised these concerns nearly nothing has been done to reign in Islamic extremism at Al Azhar University or bring to justice those responsible for attacking the Christian community at Al Kosh, while more bloggers have been imprisoned and more attacks on the Christian and other religious minority communities have taken place.”

Mr. Soleiman was sentenced to four years in prison on charges of blasphemy and criticizing the president. More specifically, Mr. Soleiman’s sentence rested on comments he made on a personal blog criticizing the government’s response and handling of an attack on the Christian community at Al Kosh and for his criticism of the rising Islamic extremism at Al Azhar University.

Upon first learning of Mr. Soleiman’s imprisonment four years ago, Franks wrote to the Egyptian Ambassador in Washington on Mr. Soleiman's behalf, after which Mr. Soleiman's initial trial was postponed; Mr. Soleiman later received a sentence much shorter than the ten years most human rights advocates anticipated he would receive.

In addition to the attached letter, Congressman Franks also sent a letter with colleagues to US Ambassador to Egypt, Margaret Scobey, calling on the U.S. Embassy to remain engaged in this case and to work with the Egyptian government to address ways to improve the legal justice system in order to provide greater protection for the freedom of religion and expression in Egypt for all people.

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