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An Egyptian appeals court on Monday upheld the four-year prison sentence given to an Egyptian blogger who criticized conservative Muslims and was convicted of insulting Islam and Egypt's president, court officials said.

Abdel Kareem Nabil's sentence last month had been widely condemned by local and international rights groups as a bid to curb free expression.

Nabil, a 22-year-old former student at Cairo's Al-Azhar University, had been sentenced to three years in prison for insulting Islam, the Prophet Muhammad and inciting sectarian strife, and another year for insulting President Hosni Mubarak.

Nabil, who used the blogger name Kareem Amer, was an unusually scathing critic of conservative Muslims. His frequent attacks on Al-Azhar led the university to expel him in March 2006 and caused prosecutors to bring him to trial.

Court officials said Monday that the Appeal Court in Alexandria upheld the earlier sentence. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the press.

The judge in the original trial found that Nabil had insulted the Prophet Muhammad with a piece he wrote in 2005 after riots in which angry Muslim worshippers attacked a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria over a play 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 wrote in his blog. He called Muhammad and his 7th century followers, the Sahaba, "spillers of blood" for their teachings on warfare — a comment cited by the judge.

In a later essay not cited by the court, Nabil clarified his comments, saying that Muhammad was "great" but his teachings on warfare and other issues should be viewed as a product of their times.

In other writings, he called Al-Azhar the "other face of the coin of al-Qaida" and he criticized Mubarak, describing him as "the symbol of tyranny."


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