Egyptian blogger beaten in jail - rights groups

CAIRO, Nov 20 (Reuters) - An Egyptian blogger serving a 4-year jail term for insulting Islam and President Hosni Mubarak has been beaten in prison and sent to an isolation cell, rights groups said on Tuesday.

Abdel Karim Suleiman, a former law student convicted in connection with eight articles he wrote since 2004, was the first blogger to stand trial in Egypt for Internet writings.

The February verdict was widely condemned by human rights groups and bloggers as a dangerous precedent that could limit online freedom in the most populous Arab country.

Reporters without Borders said Suleiman, in letters sent from prison, had complained of being handcuffed and beaten then put into an isolation cell where he received very little food or water.

"I have been subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment," the Paris-based media watchdog quoted Suleiman as saying. The group urged Egypt to release Suleiman, who also goes by the name Kareem Amer. He is being held in Borg el-Arab prison near the northern port city of Alexandria.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, which represents Suleiman, said in a statement that a prison guard and another prisoner beat him while a prison official looked on. The beating caused one of his teeth to be broken.

Later, the group said, Suleiman was sent to a "disciplinary cell" where he was put in handcuffs and leg shackles and beaten again. The group said the beatings resulted from Suleiman "uncovering an act of corruption in the prison" but gave no further details.

An Interior Ministry spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment. The government says it opposes torture and prosecutes abusers if it has evidence of wrongdoing.

The Internet has emerged as a major forum for critics of the Egyptian government to express their views in a country where the state runs large newspapers and main television stations.

Suleiman, a secular-minded Muslim, has not denied writing the articles for which he was convicted, but said they merely represented his own views.

One of Suleiman's articles said al-Azhar in Cairo, one of the most prominent seats of Sunni Muslim learning, was promoting extreme ideas. Suleiman has also described some of the companions of the Muslim prophet Mohammad as "terrorists" and likened Mubarak to dictatorial pharaohs who ruled ancient Egypt. (Reporting by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Janet Lawrence)