Egyptian Student Who Supported Atheism on Facebook Given Prison Sentence and Allegedly Tortured for “Contempt of Religion”

Suez Canal University

Sherif Gaber, a 22-year-old student at Suez Canal University, was given a prison sentence yesterday by an Egyptian court for “contempt of religion.”  Sherif was turned in by his own college president and arrested at home in an excessive raid officials somehow thought required five military-style vehicles:

A student from Ismailia was given a one year prison sentence by a court Monday for contempt of religion relating to activities on campus and atheist statements online.

Sherif Gaber, 22, was studying at Suez Canal University in 2013, when teaching staff and fellow students reported him via a petition to the institution’s President. They said he had made posts supporting atheism on Facebook, and suspected him of being behind a page called ‘The Atheists’.  Subsequently, the university’s then-president Mohamed A. Mohamedein personally filed a legal complaint against the student to the local prosecution on the grounds of contempt of religion…

Gaber said that… on 27 October 2013 he was arrested from his home at 3am.  “[I couldn’t believe] the strength of the security of the state – three armoured cars and an army vehicle, surrounded my house,” Gaber said. “I said there must be another Osama bin Laden living in the same tower… I didn’t know I was that dangerous.”

It appears that Sherif’s beliefs extend to humanism as well, which may have triggered the attacks on him:

Speaking to Daily News Egypt, Gaber said how he was a “good student… top of his class”, but that his run-in with the university began after he challenged a science teacher. This arose over the teacher calling homosexuality a sin, and for homosexuals to “be crucified in the middle of the streets”.

Most disturbing of all is Sherif’s allegation that he was severely tortured:

The student was kept in detention by National Security until December 2013, when he was granted an EGP 7,500 bail. Gaber told Daily News Egypt that during this time, he was subjected to severe abuse and electrocution from the security officials, who “punished every part of me.”

Sherif is temporarily out of prison, at home, and frightened:

Monday’s verdict on the case allows Gaber to avoid the prison sentence on a bail of EGP 1,000. However, a retrial that could increase the sentence to over two years is due to take place in the coming weeks… Gaber, who has separated from his family and now lives alone in an apartment, said that he is looking for help in claiming emergency asylum in the next few weeks to avoid imprisonment in the retrial of his case.

An Egypt-based freethought organization has come to his aid, and has spoken out against universities taking such oppressive actions against their students:

“The state of freedom of expression in Egyptian universities is very bad,” Fatma Serag, a lawyer working with Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) who provided support to Gaber, told Daily News Egypt.

“Universities’ managements encourage students to report on their fellow students that have different political and ideological thoughts in order to take legal action against them and notify the national security agency and the police,” Serag continued.

This was excellent reporting from Daily News Egypt, which also provided the further background we know all too well here about the country’s escalating crackdown on atheists.  Let’s hope they and the AFTE can keep up the pressure… and that the U.S. soon joins them.

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