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Egyptian court to issue verdict Feb. 22 for blogger accused of insulting Islam
By HAMZA HENDAWI
Associated Press
2007-02-02 01:42 AM
A prosecution lawyer branded an Egyptian blogger charged with insulting Islam as "an apostate" in court Thursday, sparking a shouting match with the defense in Egypt's first trial prosecuting Internet writings.

During the stormy session, the defendant, Abdel Kareem Nabil, pleaded innocent to the charges of insulting Islam, harming the peace and insulting President Hosni Mubarak.

"I don't see what I have done," Nabil, looking pale with a light beard, said from the defendants cage. "I expressed my opinion...the intention was not anything like these (charges)."

Nabil _ a 22-year-old former student at Egypt's Al-Azhar University, an Islamic institution _ often denounced Islamic authorities and criticized Mubarak on his Arabic-language blog. He has been in detention since November and faces up to 11 years in prison if convicted, his lawyer Ahmed Seif el-Islam said.

The judge Ayman al-Akazi said he would announce his verdict on Feb. 22. The trial began in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria on Jan. 18.

Amnesty International on Thursday called for Nabil's "immediate and unconditional release."

Nabil "is being prosecuted on account of the peaceful expression of his views about Islam and the al-Azhar religious authorities," Malcolm Smart, the group's Washington-based Middle East and North Africa Program director, said in a statement.

Nabil was thrown out of Al-Azhar University because of his writings _ and al-Azhar, one of the most pre-eminent institutions in Sunni Islam, pressed authorities to put him on trial.

Thursday's session took on a sharply religious tone. Prosecution arguments were given Thursday by a team of Islamist lawyers who volunteered to serve as the "representatives of the people," an arrangement allowed under Egyptian law. The government's state prosecutors, who drew up the legal case against Nabil, were not present.

Nabil "has hurt every Muslim across the world," argued one of the lawyers, Mohammed Dawoud. He urged the judge to hand Karim the maximum punishment "so that he can be an example to anyone tempted to insult God, his prophet or the Quran."

Dawoud called Nabil a "murtadd" _ Arabic for "apostate" _ sparking shouts from the defense lawyers and a heated exchange until the judge demanded order, banging his clenched fist.

Under strict interpretations of Islamic Sharia law, apostasy is punishable by death, although Egyptian law does not have a clear provision for punishing apostasy.

Standing in the defendants cage and flanked by two policemen, Nabil smiled contemptuously during Dawoud's speech, drawing protests from members of the audience. "He is laughing! He deserves everything he gets," shouted one spectator.

Nabil's defense lawyers avoided making a case for Nabil's right to write about Islam, instead focusing on technical aspects and arguing that the prosecution's written case against Nabil was incomplete. Chief defense lawyer Seif el-Islam said the court should appoint an expert to examine the evidence. The defense has raised questions whether the Internet server was based in Egypt and therefore whether a crime was committed in Egypt.

Fellow defense lawyer Mohsen Bahnasawi argued that crimes related to the Internet were new in Egypt and that the penal code did not cover them. Al-Akazi said the defense could introduce written motions concerning the shortcomings in the prosecution case and he would consider them in deciding his verdict.

Dawoud asked the judge to add a fourth charge of "insulting a sect," punishable with another five years in prison. The judge did not immediately respond.

"I want him (Nabil) to get the toughest punishment," Dawoud told The Associated Press. "I am on a jihad here ... If we leave the likes of him without punishment, it will be like a fire that consumes everything."

Egyptian security forces arrested a number of bloggers last year _ usually in connection with their links to protests by democratic reform activists. All have been released, except Nabil, who was the only one to deal with the sensitive topic of religion in his writings.

In his blog _ where he uses the name Kareem Amer _ Nabil was a fierce critic of conservative Muslims and in particularly of al-Azhar, which he denounced as "the university of terrorism" and acccused of suppressing free thought. He was thrown out of the university in March.

In other postings, Nabil described Mubarak's regime as a "symbol of dictatorship."

Nabil was briefly detained in late 2005 after posting a commentary on riots in which angry Muslim worshippers attacked a Coptic Christian church over a play put on by Christians deemed offensive to Islam.

"Muslims revealed their true ugly face and appeared to all the world that they are full of brutality, barbarism and inhumanity," Nabil said of the October 2005 riots.

_____

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