CAIRO: Dozens of human rights activists gathered at rallies in several world capitals on Friday afternoon to protest the imprisonment of Egyptian student blogger Kareem Amer, reportedly attracting considerable media attention.
Armed with letters to Egyptian ambassadors abroad denouncing Amer’s imprisonment and banners reading ‘Shame on Egypt’, ‘Blogging ist kein verbrechen’ (Blogging is not a crime), and ‘Tuta for tryckfrihet’ (Honk for press freedom), protestors held sit-ins and speeches outside Egyptian embassies in London, Berlin, Stockholm, Athens, and Washington among other cities, urging the Egyptian authorities to release the Alexandria blogger.
In Bucharest demonstrators not only provided curious passers by with fliers, but also flower bouquets in an effort to raise public awareness about Amer’s case.
“We decided to hand out flowers to show the public that our rally was a peaceful manifestation. It is also harder for a person not to accept your flier if you hand them a flower along with it, rally organizers Anca Bogdana Rusu and Olga Nicoara said in a statement on freekareem.org, and internet site campaigning on Kareem’s behalf.
Activists at the Berlin protest, an event organized by the Hertie School of Governance, attracted many curious onlookers by gagging themselves with masks marked with big black crosses to illustrate Egypt’s crackdown on freedom of expression.
In late November the former student at Al-Azhar University was sentenced to four years in prison by a court in Alexandria for ‘defaming Islam and President Mubarak’ on his internet blog.
The case has sparked strong criticism of the Egyptian government from international rights groups as well as foreign governments.
Human Rights Watch argued that Amer s sentence “sets a chilling precedent in a country where blogs have opened a window for free speech and urged the Egyptian government to abide by its commitment under international human rights law.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit recently lashed out at critics of Egypt s domestic policies, stating that ‘no one has the right to interfere with Egyptian legal matters or comment on Egypt s decisions.
Staff at the Egyptian embassies seemed mildly entertained by Friday’s rallies that caused minor ruckus outside the premises, according to protest participants.
“The embassy staff was watching us carefully throughout the rally. Some of them even passed by us several times to read our signs, said rally organizer Andrew Perraut in London.
Perraut added that “a number of people in the street stopped to honk their horns in a show of support.
The Stockholm rally reportedly featuring a high number of protestors and several speakers appeared to attract more attention from the Swedish police than the embassy staff.
Organizer Jonas Virdalm said that “while there were police officers monitoring us, no one was reported. It was a good demonstration for a good cause.
The Egyptian embassy in Washington DC had a busy day on Friday as it was the target of two separate demonstrations.
At lunchtime demonstrators rallied outside the embassy in protest of Egypt’s decision to imprison Kareem Amer.
Shortly after, a large number of Muslim Brotherhood members and the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation (MASFF) marched up to the embassy to protest the government s record of human rights violations and subjecting political opponents to military tribunals.
The rally reportedly attracted human rights activists from several US cities in addition to both local and international mass media, including Al Jazeera International.
Mahdi Bray, director of MASFF, expressed deep concern over what he called a “deteriorating climate of human rights conditions in Egypt.
Bray also pointed out to the large commitment of US tax dollars to Egypt in the form os aid (currently at $1.7 billion a year), stressing that US taxpayers “must ensure that this aid not be used to support the broad attack on human rights evidenced by the recent conduct of the Egyptian government.
Protest organizers attempted to deliver a letter expressing their concerns to the Egyptian embassy at the end of the rally, but embassy officials allegedly declined to receive their statement.
Members of MASFF announced that they will soon meet with US congressional leaders to discuss Egypt’s human rights conditions.
A delegation of MASFF members and high-level US religious and civil rights leaders may also visit Egypt this spring, according to the website of the Muslim Brotherhood.