On February 16, 2015, Sherif Gaber, a 22 year-old commerce student at Suez Canal University, was found guilty of contempt of religion and given a prison sentence, reportedly based on allegations that he used social networking to advocate atheism.
According to reports, in mid-2013, Gaber’s fellow students, as well as teaching staff, submitted a petition to the university’s president, accusing Gaber of having started a Facebook page supportive of atheism. Subsequently, on that basis, the university’s president reportedly filed a complaint against Gaber with local prosecutors. He was arrested in late October 2013, detained for roughly two months, and released on bail the following December.
The trial court ultimately sentenced Gaber to 1 year in prision (subject to appeal).
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the detention and prosecution of a student in retaliation for nonviolent expressive activity – conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. State officials have a responsibility not to interfere with students’ right to freedom of expression, so long as that right is exercised peacefully and responsibly. Imprisonment and prosecution aimed at limiting free expression undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally. State officials have an obligation to comply with internationally recognized standards of due process, fair trial, free expression and freedom of association.