Egypt blogger says jail won't stop future activism

CAIRO Wed Nov 24, 2010 8:20am EST

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CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian blogger, released after four years in prison for insulting Islam and President Hosni Mubarak, said on Wednesday he had no regrets, and that his jail time would not deter him from activism in the future.

"If I went back in time, I would not change a thing," Abdel Kareem Nabil, 26, known as Kareem Amer, told a news conference.

Amer, the first Egyptian blogger to have been jailed for opinions expressed online, was arrested in 2006. He was also expelled from the state-run religious al-Azhar University.

The activist said he had been freed on November 5 and then re-arrested, held for 11 days and beaten. An Interior Ministry official has confirmed he had been re-arrested.

Amer, who was denied visitors for one of his years in an Alexandria prison, said he was hoping to resume his studies, but not at al-Azhar. His prison experience would not silence him.

"At first, I didn't expect matters to be that difficult," he said. "Now that I know, I still won't back away because of the pressures. I learnt I can deal with the situation differently so as to assure my safety while still voicing what I want to say."

The Internet is among the few public platforms for angry voices in Egypt, where rights groups say an emergency law in place since 1981 has been used to silence critics of Mubarak, 82, and his ruling National Democratic Party.

Only about 16 percent of Egyptians use the Internet, according to a 2008 World Bank report, but opposition groups and government supporters alike have pushed their views online ahead of Sunday's parliamentary election.

A Facebook group rallied hundreds of Egyptians to protest in July over the death of Khaled Said, a Web activist who rights groups say was killed in police custody.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), which has supported Amer since his case began, said it would continue to struggle for freedom of expression in Egypt.

"We defend opinions regardless of whether we agree or disagree with them," ANHRI head Gamal Eid told the news conference, denying that his group had any hidden agenda.

Eid said freedom of expression applied equally to secular opinions such as Amer's and those of Islamist activists.

"We would protect (religious) extremists' right of freedom of expression on condition that their thoughts remain thoughts and are not coupled with implementation," he said.

(Editing by Alistair Lyon and Jan Harvey)

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