CAIRO: Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Egyptian authorities to immediately release Hany Nazeer, the Coptic blogger detained since October 2008 under the emergency law.
Despite an April 3, 2010 court order for Nazeer’s release, the Interior Ministry renewed his 19-month detention for the sixth time this week, citing emergency law provisions that permit detention without charge, HRW said in a statement.
“Nazeer’s renewed detention gives lie to the Egyptian government’s claim that it doesn’t use the emergency law to imprison people with dissenting views,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
“The government is not addressing a national security emergency but persecuting a writer whose blog may have upset some people.”
Security Services arrested Nazeer in October 2008 for suspicions of being "Father Utah" who had been attacking Islam on the internet and the author of an electronic novel called “Azazeel’s Goat in Mecca” written by an individual calling himself Father Utah.
The novel is a response to the controversial winner of the 2009 International Prize for Arabic Fiction “Azazeel”, by Egyptian novelist and historian Youssef Zeidan, which the Egyptian church found "offensive to Christianity".
Nazeer, a social worker at a high school known for his critical views on established religions, published a blog called “Karz El Hob” or "Preacher of Love". In it, he included a link to his alleged novel with a cover photo that some in his village in Qena considered insulting to Islam.
When rumors that Nazeer had cited this book on his blog spread in the village, angry crowds gathered outside his house and Nazeer left the village, fearing for his safety.
State security officials headed to Nazeer’s home to arrest him on Oct. 1, 2008. When they failed to find him, they arrested and detained his brothers for three days as hostages and threatened to arrest his sisters. In response, Nazeer turned himself in two days later. He has been held ever since at Borg El-Arab Prison in Alexandria.
Writing appearing under the name Father Utah has continued to appear online since Nazeer’s detention.
HRW mentioned that in February 2010, the Foreign Affairs Ministry said that “preventative measures were taken to protect Hany Nazeer’s life in light of the anger and the strong uprising of the Muslims in Abu Tesht, Qena, caused by his blog.”
“The right way to protect Nazeer is not by imprisoning him, but by prosecuting those threatening his security,” Whitson said. “The government does nothing to foster an atmosphere of tolerance and respect for the views of others when it jails those who have controversial views.”