SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: May 19, 2015

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances | Killings

Institution(s):Ain Shams University

Region & Country:Northern Africa | Egypt

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On May 19, 2015, Islam Salah Al-Din Atitu, a student at Ain Shams University (ASU) in Cairo, was killed by police.

On the day he was killed, Atitu had been taking a humanities exam on campus. Shortly before the end of the exam, according to classmates, two men entered the classroom and began grabbing students’ exam papers and checking their names, until they identified Atitu. They reportedly indicated that Atitu would need to come to the university’s student affairs office to provide missing paperwork for their files.  Security footage taken immediately after the exam reportedly shows Atitu leaving campus and shortly thereafter running past the campus gate, being pursued by two individuals. Witnesses reported seeing Atitu subsequently being pushed into an unmarked car.

One day after Atitu’s killing, the Egyptian Ministry of Interior  issued a statement alleging that Atitu had been a member of a terrorist organization who was involved in the murder of a police officer, and that he had been killed in a firefight with officers as they raided his hideout.

However, forensic evidence reportedly suggests that Atitu was killed by external wounds rather than gunfire, casting doubt on official explanations. Witnesses have also alleged that Atitu’s body bore signs of torture, including broken bones, extensive fractures, and wounds from beatings with a sharp object.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the potential torture and targeted killing of a university student. Such conduct is a violation of human rights instruments — including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights–to which Egypt is party. Beyond the injury to the immediate victim, these actions have a chilling effect on academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.