Chained to a bed, under the close watch of police, Rasheed Mohamed Omar El-Meheeshy was losing hope. Outside the hospital room, a group of angry students and faculty were doing their all to force medical staff into denying treatment for Mr. Meheeshy, and to have him returned to prison to die.
The law professor at Libya’s Misurata University dug too deep, and his findings made him a lot of enemies in Zliten City, where he lives. After being assigned to review grades and degrees given to students at the school, Mr. Meheeshy stumbled across a crime ring issuing fake college degrees. The university formed a committee to investigate, and Mr. Meheeshy was placed at its helm as dean of the university’s law division.
“There are a lot of people in Libya who are working with faked certificates—professionals, like lawyers, people working in government,” said Mr. Meheeshy via phone through an Arabic translator.
Investigations found that 22 universities were involved in the fake diploma scheme, and according to newspaper OEA Libya, 150 fake bachelor's degrees had been issued. Students who were involved were expelled, and 11 faculty members involved were fired.
“After I became the dean, I stopped all these faked certificates,” Mr. Meheeshy said, adding, “As a result, I ended up with three groups against me—those who had those fake certificates, the students I kicked out, and the professors I fired from the school.”
In mid-May three of Mr. Meheeshy’s students claimed he sexually harassed them; an accusation he believes they made out of revenge.
The general prosecutor in Zliten City, Mr. El Sedik Al-Sor—who has had a history of conflict with Mr. Meheeshy—was placed in charge of his case, and after an interrogation on May 19, Mr. Meheeshy was thrown in jail to await trial.
There were 15 other prisoners in the 39-square-foot cell, with no ventilation and no toilet. He suffered a stroke within the first few hours, and was not taken to the hospital until the next day when he lost consciousness.
Mr. Meheeshy is a diabetic, and has a history of heart problems. He needs to take six types medications each day, including an injection—all of which he was denied while in prison. According to OEA Libya, “Prosecutors ignored the fact that the dean suffered from heart disease and his life was in danger.”
Universities around the world that sell fake diplomas, sometimes referred to as diploma mills, if the act is their sole focus, are well known. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates the industry brings in $200 million annually, according to a 2005 report. Others place the numbers higher. A report from Yale Daily News, says the industry brings in $500 million annually.
A 2004 investigation by the Office of Special Investigations of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that 28 employees from eight U.S. government offices were working with fake diplomas.
“These employees included three management-level DOE [Department of Energy] employees who have emergency operations responsibilities at the National Nuclear Security Administration and security clearances,” says a GAO report.
Regardless of how well known the problem is, however, Mr. Meheeshy was facing a very different issue. According to him, Zliten City is under a kind of “tribal rule,” rather than a rule of law. The students, faculty, and members of the community working with fake degrees, whom Mr. Meheeshy exposed, stretched throughout the full social sphere in Libya.
It wasn’t long after he was taken to the hospital that he was dragged back to prison by the guards.
“At this point, the doctors and the police started an argument,” Mr. Meheeshy said, adding that despite pressure from the doctors to have him returned to their care, the police wouldn’t allow him to be admitted to the hospital without approval from Mr. Soor. One of the doctors, Dr. Dabbik, told the police that if they didn’t let them treat Mr. Meheeshy, he would die, and the police would be responsible, Mr. Meheeshy said.
He was sent to the hospital, and on May 24, was admitted to the intensive care unit. Police went along, and kept him under close watch. His right arm was chained to the hospital bed, and outside, an angry mob argued with administrative staff to have Mr. Meheeshy denied treatment and sent back to prison.
While all this was taking place, the court decided Mr. Meheeshy’s life was endangered by the group of angry students, faculty, and others that trailed him. Police guards were brought in from a different city to ensure his safety; and a new judge, also from a different city, was placed in charge of the case.
New evidence also surfaced. On June 1, OEA Libya reported that one of the students withdrew her claim that Mr. Meheeshy sexually harassed her; and another student confirmed that the claims against Mr. Meheeshy were made under the coercion of the students he expelled. The new judge ordered his immediate release on June 21.
Translated from Arabic, OEA Libya quoted Mr. Meheeshy’s lawyer saying that although the release does not prove his client’s innocence, “it gives the impression that the court had doubts about the validity of the charges.”
Throughout the ordeal Mr. Meheeshy’s health took a serious turn, as he claims he was denied medication and care on many days during his detention. As a diabetic, not being able to regulate his insulin affected his vision, and he left for Egypt to seek treatment.
According to a health report from eye clinic, Nour El Ein Center, Mr. Meheeshy lost partial sight in his left eye due to a rise in sugar levels, which harmed his cornea. The damage is irreversible.
The case against Mr. Meheeshy is ongoing, with a hearing scheduled for Sept. 20. The father of six said, “Even though I am in Egypt, I am really worried for my family. I have children, boys and girls, and I’m really worried that these gangsters will hurt them. I’m not worried about the government because I know they will protect them—it’s the people that I’m afraid of.”