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Egypt: Mysterious death of 'blackmailed' student causes uproar

Prosecutors order arrest of two classmates of student Nayera Salah al-Zoghby on suspicion of blackmail that led to her death
Nayera Salah al-Zoghby died on 24 February after swallowing a poisonous substance, according to the Egyptian public prosecution (X)
Nayera Salah al-Zoghby died on 24 February after swallowing a poisonous substance, according to the Egyptian public prosecution (X)

Egypt’s public prosecution on Sunday ordered the arrest of two university students who are suspected of blackmailing a classmate with private photos and causing her death in mysterious circumstances. 

Nayera Salah Al-Zoghby, a 19-year-old student at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of al-Arish, died in hospital on 24 February after swallowing a poisonous substance, according to the preliminary investigations.

Her parents and her lawyer denied suspicion of suicide and said she died of poisoning. 

The public prosecution said in a statement on Sunday that the preliminary investigations showed that Zoghby was subjected to “psychological pressure” resulting from threats by two of her colleagues to circulate private photos.

The public prosecution charged the two defendants with “threatening in writing to disclose matters related to private life” (a felony) and “assaulting the sanctity of the victim’s private life” (a misdemeanor).

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It ordered their pretrial detention pending investigations and the seizure of their and the victim’s cell phones. 

Zoghby’s lawyer said that she died from poisoning, while her family emphasised that she was a devout Muslim, making suicide implausible.

The lawyer accused the university of negligence and delay in transferring the deceased to the hospital after she complained of severe stomach pain. 

Her father filed a complaint with the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, urging an investigation into his daughter's death. The family insists on foul play and rejects the suicide claim.

The preliminary autopsy report indicated "severe poisoning".

One of the two suspects is the daughter of a senior police officer, which prompted accusations that she used her father’s influence to avoid accountability.

But the Interior Ministry last week ordered the suspension of her father pending investigations, according to a report by Shorouk newspaper. 

How Nayera died

The news about Nayera’s death has swept through Egyptian social media, with many calling for an urgent investigation into the incident. 

Some suggested she took her own life to escape blackmail by her peers at the university who allegedly obtained explicit videos and photos of her.

In its statement, the public prosecution said its investigation team in al-Arish traced the itinerary of the deceased once she left the university city campus until she reached a store selling agricultural pesticides.

The owner of the store admitted to officials that the victim had arrived in a taxi to request the purchase of grains and that she left the shop after being informed of their unavailability.

She told the taxi driver that she needed the grains for study purposes, the prosecution said. 

Initial investigations by the public prosecution found no criminal suspicion behind her death.

On Saturday, it reopened the investigation following a social media campaign demanding truth and justice for the deceased student. 

The prosecution ordered the body to be exhumed for a forensic examination to determine the cause of death. It also initiated summonses for anyone related to the incident or possessing information.

The subjects' mobile phones are being examined, and surveillance cameras on the university campus are being reviewed, it said in a statement

According to testimonies by her family, and lawyer, Zoghby arrived at Al-Arish Hospital on 24 February with a severe drop in blood circulation, entering a coma before passing away. 

Following her death, students and social media users launched a campaign titled: "The Right of Al-Arish Student," claiming that her death resulted from disputes with one of her peers due to a verbal altercation.

A report from the government-linked website Cairo24 published a document purported to be a medical report confirming that the student entered the hospital in a state of "severe exhaustion due to the ingestion of a toxic substance".

The report states that she "suffered from a disturbance in consciousness, a sharp drop in blood circulation, and a weak pulse as a result of ingesting an unknown toxic substance. Initial first aid was administered, but she passed away."

Her cousin denied to the website that her death was due to the ingestion of a toxic substance, stating that she "died from an unknown toxic substance".

According to reports by independent Egyptian media, her roommate secretly recorded her while bathing to humiliate and bully her due to a previous altercation.

The report claims that the peer sent threatening messages, indicating she would expose the recordings on social media. Zoghby allegedly apologised privately to resolve the conflict.

A widely circulated image of a WhatsApp conversation suggests that students planned to reveal embarrassing information about Zoghby.

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