Free Speech on Internet a Basic Human Right, United States Says

By Stephen Kaufman
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - The U.S. State Department expressed concern over the conviction and sentencing of an Egyptian blogger to four years in prison due to his comments posted online, and said the freedom of expression on the Internet is “part of general, basic human rights.”

State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said February 22 that 22-year-old Abdel Karim Suleiman is “the first Egyptian blogger to be prosecuted for the contents of his remarks.”

Suleiman was convicted by an Alexandria court in connection with eight articles he had written since 2004. Egyptian authorities said the articles were insulting to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the Islamic faith.

Casey expressed concern over the curtailment of free speech.

“[C]ertainly, while we have great respect for all religions, including certainly Islam, the role of freedom of expression is critical for the development of a democratic and prosperous society,” he said, adding that the right to express one’s opinions and views includes what one posts on the Internet.

“I think we view them as part of general, basic human rights,” he said.

The deputy spokesman said the Bush administration has discussed the issue in general terms with the Egyptian government and had mentioned Suleiman by name in its 2005 human rights report. (See related article.)

“I understand we'll be discussing this specific action with them as well,” he said.

The State Department has increased its efforts to combat Internet censorship around the world, recently allocating $500,000 in support of Internet freedom projects and is expanding its section concerning online freedom of speech in its upcoming human rights report.

U.S. officials also held a January 30 conference on Internet freedom that brought U.S. officials together with human rights organizations and the corporate world, including leading companies involved in Internet communication, to address government restriction of the flow of information on the Web. (See related article.)

For more information, see Internet Freedom.