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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Egyptian Blogger, Accused of Sectarian Strife and Insulting Islam,

Associated Press Writer

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) -- An Egyptian blogger went on trial Thursday on charges of insulting Islam and causing sectarian strife with his Internet writings. Egypt's first prosecution of a blogger came as Washington has backed away from pressuring its Mideast ally to improve its human rights record and bring democratic reform.

Abdel Kareem Nabil often denounced Islamic authorities and criticized Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on his Arabic-language blog. He has been in detention since November and faces up to nine years in prison if convicted.

Egypt has arrested a string of pro-democracy bloggers over the past year, sparking condemnation from human rights groups.

Nabil's trial in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria began two days after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Mubarak, seeking support for a new American strategy on calming violence in Iraq.

But unlike past visits to Egypt when she pressed demands for greater democracy, Rice made no reference to reform, instead praising the two countries' "important strategic relationship -- one that we value greatly."

In 2005, the Bush administration made Egypt -- which Mubarak has ruled unquestioned for a quarter century -- the centerpiece of what it called a policy priority of promoting democratic change in the Arab world.

But Egyptian reformists say Washington has all but dropped its pressure on Mubarak amid the Bush administration's need for support on Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The United States was also spooked when Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood made big gains in 2005 parliamentary elections and the radical Hamas movement won 2006 Palestinian elections -- raising fears that greater democracy would increase fundamentalists' power, activists say.

"America's stance is very clear. It is so afraid after the victories of Hamas in Palestine and the Brotherhood in Egypt," said Ahmed Seif al-Islam, a member of one of three Egyptian rights group backing Nabil in his case.

The United States "has not only lifted its hand and stopped pressure. We are in the phase of (the U.S.) hinting to government they can take repressive measures for the sake of stability," he said.

In Thursday's court session, Nabil was charged with inciting sedition, insulting Islam, harming national unity and insulting the president, a court official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of court rules.

Defense attorneys asked for time to review the indictment and the trial was adjourned until Jan. 25.

His lawyer, Radwa Sayed Ahmed, said Nabil had been held in solitary confinement, forbidden visits from his family and lawyers. In court Thursday, "he didn't look good," she told the Associated Press from Alexandria.

Nabil is the first blogger Egypt has put on trial for his writings. Other bloggers have been released without charges. But unlike the other detained bloggers, who concentrated on politics, Nabil wrote often on religion -- and Seif al-Islam said the government was likely prosecuting him as part of its "competition with the Muslim Brotherhood to show its Islamic credentials."

In his blog -- where he uses the name Kareem Amer -- Nabil was a fierce critic of conservative Muslims and in particularly of al-Azhar, one of the most prestigious religious institutions in the Sunni Muslim world.

Nabil was a law student at al-Azhar University, but denounced it as "the university of terrorism," accusing it of promoting radical ideas and suppressing free thought. Al-Azhar "stuffs its students' brains and turns them into human beasts ... teaching them that there is no place for differences in this life," he wrote.

He was thrown out of the university in March, and in his last blog entry before his arrest blamed al-Azhar for pushing the government to investigate him.

In other postings, Nabil described Mubarak's regime as a "symbol of dictatorship."

Nabil was briefly detained in late 2005 after posting a commentary on riots in which angry Muslim worshippers attacked a Coptic Christian church over a play put on by Christians deemed offensive to Islam.

"Muslims revealed their true ugly face and appeared to all the world that they are full of brutality, barbarism and inhumanity," Nabil said of the October 2005 riots.

Blogging took off in Egypt in 2004, at a time when domestic political activists and the U.S. were stepping up calls for political reform.

Last year, police arrested Alaa Abdel-Fattah, whose blog helped organize anti-government protests, and held him for six weeks before releasing him in June. Another blogger, Mohammed el-Sharkawi, was arrested during a demonstration in May and allegedly sexually tortured in detention before his release.

Amnesty International and media watchdog Reporters Without Borders have criticized the arrests as restricting freedom of expression. The Paris-based media watchdog has included Egypt in "Enemies of the Internet," a report issued in November.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Tim Berners-Lee moves toward social research on the Internet

Last Updated: Thursday, 2 November 2006, 09:39 GMT
Web inventor fears for the future
By Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the web
Sir Tim Berners-Lee is concerned about the future of the web

The British developer of the world wide web says he is worried about the way it could be used to spread misinformation and "undemocratic forces".

The web has transformed the way many people work, play and do business.

But Sir Tim Berners-Lee told BBC News he feared that, if the way the internet is used is left to develop unchecked, "bad things" could happen.

He wants to set up a web science research project to study the social implications of the web's development.

If we don't have the ability to understand the web as it's now emerging, we will end up with things that are very bad
Sir Tim Berners-Lee

The changes experienced to date because of the web are just the start of a more radical transformation of society, he said.

But Sir Tim is concerned about the way it could end up being used.

He told the BBC: "If we don't have the ability to understand the web as it's now emerging, we will end up with things that are very bad.

"Certain undemocratic things could emerge and misinformation will start spreading over the web.

"Studying these forces and the way they're affected by the underlying technology is one of the things that we think is really important," he said.

Social phenomenon

He insisted his new web science research initiative would be more than just computer science.

When you look at university courses, web science isn't there - it seems to fall through the cracks
Sir Tim Berners-Lee

He said he wanted to attract researchers from a range of disciplines to study it as a social as well as technological phenomenon.

Sir Tim added that he hoped it would create a new science for studying the web, which he believes would lead to newer and more exciting systems.

"All kinds of disciplines are going to have to converge. People with all kinds of skills are going to have to work together to build a new web which is going to be even better," he said.

He also said employers were now beginning to complain that there were not enough people who fully understood the web.

"There aren't any courses at the moment and it hasn't really been brought together.

"We're hearing complaints from companies when they need people that really understand the medium from both the technological and social side.

"When you look at university courses, web science isn't there - it seems to fall through the cracks.

"So we'd like to put it on the curriculum so that there are a lot more people who understand this."

Social challenges

The US-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Southampton, UK, will launch the long-term research collaboration that will have a direct influence on the future development of the world wide web.

Because the internet is such a free medium people tend to have a horror of controlling the information flows
Gail, Seoul

The Web Science Research Initiative will chart out a research agenda aimed at understanding the scientific, technical and social challenges underlying the growth of the web.

Of particular interest is the growing volume of information on the web that documents more and more aspects of human activity and knowledge.

The project will examine how we access this information and assess its reliability.

'Torture' victim jailed in Egypt

Torture' victim jailed in Egypt
Still from Egypt 'torture' film
The graphic footage of Mr Kabir became public in November
An Egyptian man filmed being sexually assaulted in jail by police officers, has himself been imprisoned on a charge related to the same incident.

Imad Kabir was jailed for three months for "resisting authority", a sentence that has shocked his defence lawyers.

Last year, Mr Kabir was seen in widely circulated footage writhing in agony as he was being sodomised with a stick.

His lawyer says the alleged assault came after he intervened in a dispute between a policeman and his cousin.

The incident happened in January 2006 in Cairo's Bulaq district, but the footage, apparently taken by one of the abusers, did not become public until November.

The case was taken up by Egyptian bloggers and members of the international human rights community.

Two police officers accused of torturing the defendant, Islam Nabih and Reda Fathi, have been detained and are due to face trial in March.

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