Why Is Kareem Amer Still in an Egyptian Detention Center?

November 14, 2010

Kareem Amer

Kareem Amer should never have been in jail in the first place.  Now the Egyptian blogger and prisoner of conscience is wondering why he remains in jail after serving the entirety of his four-year sentence.

Amer, who was jailed for criticizing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Islam on his blog, is being held at a State Security Intelligence (SSI) detention center in Alexandria despite being due for release on Nov. 5. Lawyers from the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) reported that he has been beaten and abused by State Security Intelligence (SSI) officers.

This isn’t the first time Egyptian officials have held individuals beyond the termination of their sentence.  In fact many who are detained for political activities never even make it to trial.

The State of Emergency, which has been in force in Egypt since 1981, gives the government sweeping powers to detain individuals.  Time and time again, authorities have used these powers arbitrarily and aggressively with the intention of muzzling civil society. The continued detention of Kareem Amer is part of that picture.

But compared to other recent events that seemed to offer hope that the government showed partial signs of liberalization, this new step raises disturbing questions.  What stands out about this case is the high level of interest it has received by US leaders, who have raised concerns about the charges against Amer from the very beginning.  In short, the US government has done just about everything we would want them to do when faced with a human rights violation in an allied state like Egypt.

And yet, we are left with the current situation: Amer, beaten and still detained, not even in a public prison but a notorious SSI detention center. It’s hard not to speculate that certain Egyptian security officials decided to use Amer to send a message that nobody in the US, in the West or even in Egypt is going change Egypt’s record on human rights.

If that is true, it is a reminder that to be effective, human rights work must be based on a single standard. Focusing on favored individual cases never provides a long-term solution and rarely helps the specific individual. If the US government wants Kareem Amer to be released, their best tool is to insist that Egypt release all prisoners of conscience including the imprisoned Muslim Brothers, and – as Amnesty calls for in its statement – “curb the powers of the SSI and ensure that SSI officials who breach the law or are responsible for abusing prisoners are brought to justice.”