CAIRO: Egyptian rights group, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), has strongly criticized the continuing detention of a blogger who has been imprisoned without charge for six months.
ANHRI allege that Hani Nazeer Aziz from Naga Hammadi, Qena, is being held because of his “strong opposition to both Muslim and Christian hardliners .
The content of Aziz s “Kareez Hob or “Preacher of Love blog has been erased since his arrest in October 2008.
Aziz’s lawyer, Hoda Nassrallah, told Daily News Egypt that Aziz had told her that he was detained with criminals. He had told her to publicize his case in spite of his family’s disapproval.
The family wants to keep the case out of public attention. The lawyer said the family was promised by a bishop from the Naga Hammadi Church in Qena that Aziz would be released if they don’t talk about his detention.
According to ANHRI, the incident started when Muslims from Naga Hammadi browsing Aziz s blog found a link to an electronic novel called “Azazeel s Goat in Mecca written by an individual calling himself Father Utah.
The novel is a response to “Azazeel , a novel written by Muslim author Youssef Zeidan which centers on the philosophical battles between an Egyptian Coptic monk and the devil in the 5th century.
The novel, which recently won the Arabic Booker Prize, has been attacked by the Coptic Church for historical inaccuracies amongst other criticism.
ANHRI says in its statement issued yesterday that the group of Muslims were angered by attacks on Islam contained in “Azazeel s Goat in Mecca and concluded that Aziz was the book s author.
Writing appearing under the name Father Utah has continued to appear online since Aziz s detention which, ANHRI suggests, proves that he is not the author of “Azazeel s Goat in Mecca .
“Security forces took this opportunity to arrest [Aziz] in order to get rid of the problems raised by his blog because of his strong opposition to both Muslim and Christian hardliners, ANHRI says.
According to ANHRI, Aziz has previously criticized the Coptic Church’s hosting of Christian hardliners in church conferences, writing on his blog that “the church is a place for prayer and not for politics.
Aziz, a social worker, was arrested when he voluntarily turned himself in to the police on Oct. 3, 2008, after his siblings were arrested in order to force himself to come forward, according to ANHRI. He is currently being held in the Borg El-Arab Prison in Alexandria.
ANHRI points to the Bishop of Naga Hammadi’s asking the family to “keep silent in order not to upset state security as evidence of “some kind of deal between security forces and the Coptic Church in Naga Hammadi.
“By making this arrest, they managed to kill three birds with one stone; they managed to calm young protestors about ‘Azazeel’s Goat in Mecca’, covered up the failure of security in discovering the identity of the blogger Father Utah and rid themselves of a young blogger who has been criticizing Christian and Muslim hardliners, ANHRI says in its statement.
ANHRI petitioned for Aziz’s release at the end of November 2008. The supreme emergency state security court which heard the case accepted ANHRI’s case, and ordered his release. The release order was challenged by the interior ministry however, and another hearing was held on Dec. 14, 2008. The court rejected the challenge and again ordered that Aziz be released.
Rather than being released, ANHRI says that Aziz was taken to the state security office in Qena where a new detention order was issued against him.
He was then returned to Borg El-Arab Prison, where two other bloggers regarded by rights groups as prisoners of conscience are being held.
“It seems that the Egyptian government is specifically using Borg El-Arab Prison to detain secularist bloggers, ANHRI says in its statement.
“The state has detained both the secularist blogger Mosaad Abu Fagr, who has been held there for 16 months so far, along with Kareem Amer who has been jailed for 30 months, and now Hani Nazeer has spent six months in the same prison.