egypt protest 298.
(photo credit: Orly Halpern)
About a dozen Egyptian human rights groups on Monday urged President Hosni Mubarak to release the country's leading opposition prisoner, citing his deteriorating health.
Ayman Nour, who is serving a five-year prison sentence after being convicted of fraud, has complained of heart and eye problems. Last year, Nour, a diabetic who depends on insulin, underwent cardiovascular surgery while in prison.
Nour challenged Mubarak for the presidency in 2005, finishing a distant second in Egypt's first contested presidential elections. International rights groups and Western governments rebuked Egypt for prosecuting him, adding weight to Nour's charge that the trial was politically motivated - an accusation Egypt denies.
Local rights groups issued a statement saying they wanted the president to cut Nour's sentence and release him. Nour went to prison in December 2005 after being convicted of forging signatures on petitions to register Al-Ghad as a party in 2004.
"Information received indicates that his health conditions are deteriorating," the group's said in a statement.
Last month Nour's wife, Gamila Ismail, said her husband needs urgent heart surgery and accused the authorities of delaying a medical examination.
Nour also was questioned recently on allegations of slander initiated by pro-government lawmaker and editor, Mustafa Bakri, who accused Nour of publishing "blasphemous" remarks in Al-Ghad's newspaper.
Security officials said if proved he will stand another trial and may face a new prison sentence.
The United States was critical of Nour's conviction and pressed its ally Mubarak to carry out democratic reforms. But US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did not mention Nour's case to Mubarak during a visit last week to Egypt.
Instead, Rice praised the Egyptian leader for his support of US Mideast policies.