Oxford postgraduate sentenced to death by Egyptian government


Students throughout the university have expressed their outrage at the death sentence granted to Oxford student Sondos Asem in Egypt.

The 28 year old researcher and graduate student Sondos Asem is studying at the Oxford University Blavatnik School of Government and is a member of the Freedom and Justice party. Asem was sentenced to death in absentia on Saturday 16th May in Egypt after being charged with espionage and conspiring with the Palestinian movement Hamas, in relation to her position as the International Media Co-Ordinator for the former Egyptian President Morsi. Mohamed Morsi, alongside his former aides and scholars such as Emad Shahin, have also been sentenced  to the death penalty although Asem is the only female charged. In occurrence with Egyptian law, this preliminary sentence will be sent to the Grand Multi for approval.

Students from across the university have since expressed their solidarity with Asem and defended her against the accusations of the government.

On 22nd May, current MPP and DPhil students at The Blavatnik School of Government voiced their concerns on the departmental website. The  78 students from 51 countries affirmed their solidarity for their friend. The students posted:  “We are appalled to hear that Sondos is being prosecuted for simply doing her job as a Foreign Media Co-ordinator in the office of a democratically elected president.

“Sondos is as passionate and committed to the principles of public service as any of us. Whether it is lending an ear to friends, debating philosophy, praying together, or playing football with classmates, Sondos is an invaluable part of our community.

Like all of us, she came here to learn how to improve people’s lives through good government…We note that the judgment against her has yet to be reviewed. However, we are deeply saddened that these actions mean Sondos will be unable to return to Egypt or visit her family until she has been cleared of the charges.”

They continued: “we condemn this ruling and urge people and governments to speak up for the rule of law and against this injustice”

Sondos’ college Women’s Football Team also proposed a motion to the Collrgr JCR that the college (where Asem is a member of the MCR and plays for the team) condemn the death sentence. This motion, which passed unopposed, stated that the ‘ruling was unjust and politically motivated” and contrary to the “rule of law” fundamental “in a democratic society”. The JCR also  resolved to “follow Blavatnik’s example in fully condemning the ruling”, to “urge the college to provide support and assistance to Sondos” and  to demonstrate their “solidarity” with a  “friend, peer and teammate”.

One Wadham College student added: “What has happened to Asem is deeply troubling. As a college and as university it is our responsibility to stand behind Asem and fight back against what can only be described as a gross injustice”.

Speaking to the OxStu, Asem said: “The support I have received so far from my fellow students is what makes me stronger. I am impressed by the level of political awareness, human rights advocacy, and empathy on the part of my fellow students in Oxford and my college. This has proved to me that people can share the same values despite coming from different countries and cultures.

“This death sentence is not just about me, it is one example of the injustice that thousands of other women and men, are suffering due to repression in Egypt”.

Asem was a high profile and vocal presence throughout Egypt and had a range of roles including acting as the Senior Editor of Ikhwan Web, the Muslim Brotherhood english-language online website.  In a 2011 interview, she voiced her concerns surrounding the misconceptions relating to the Muslim Brotherhood stating: “It’s a big misconception that the Muslim Brotherhood marginalises women” as “50 percent of the Brotherhood are women”

Asem also affirmed that as an organisation: “We believe that a solution to women’s problems in Egyptian society is to solve the real causes, which are illiteracy, poverty and lack of education,”

The final sentence will be pronounced on June 2nd.

Due to security concerns for Asem and college members, we cannot detail which college she is currently attending. 


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