ALEXANDRIA, Egypt – An Egyptian blogger was convicted of insulting Islam and President Hosni Mubarak and sentenced to four years in prison on Thursday in Egypt'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.
Nabil, who used the blogger name Kareem Amer, had sharply criticized Al-Azhar on his Web log, calling it "the university of terrorism" and accusing it of suppressing free thought. He also often criticized Mubarak's regime on the blog.
In one post, he said Al-Azhar University "stuffs its students' brains and turns them into human beasts ... teaching them that there is not place for differences in this life."
He was a vocal critic of conservative Muslims and in other posts described Mubarak's regime as a "symbol of dictatorship."
The university threw him out last year and pressed prosecutors to put him on trial.
The judge issued the verdict in a brief, five-minute session in a court in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria. He sentenced Nabil to three years in prison for insulting Islam and inciting sedition and another year for insulting Mubarak. Nabil had faced a possible maximum sentence of up to nine years in prison.
Nabil, wearing a gray T-shirt and sitting in the defendants pen, gave no reaction and his face remained still as the verdict was read. He was immediately taken from the pen and put in a prison truck and did not comment to reporters.
Egypt arrested a number of bloggers last year, most of them for connections to Egypt's pro-democracy reform movement. Nabil was arrested in November, and while other bloggers were freed, Nabil was put on trial — a sign of the sensitivity of his writings on religion.
Hafiz Abou Saada, head of the Egyptian Human Rights Organization, described the verdict as "very tough"
"This is a strong message to all bloggers who are put under strong surveillance that the punishment will very strong," he told the Associated Press.
Two U.S. congressmen also expressed deep concern about the arrest of Nabil — who also goes by the blogger name of Kareem Amer — and called for the charges to be dropped.
"The Egyptian government's arrest of Mr. Amer simply for displeasure over writings on the personal Web log raises serious concern about the level of respect for freedoms in Egypt," Reps. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., and Barney Frank, D-Mass., wrote to U.S. Ambassador Nabil Fahmy.
The Bush administration has not commented on Nabil's trial, despite its past criticism of the arrests of Egyptian rights activists.