'Help me escape': Atheist blogger appeals for funds to flee Egypt
Sharif Gaber, who blogs about atheism and science to his 212,000 followers, announced his campaign alongside a video entitled "Help Me Escape Egypt", in which he explains how he has given up hope on life in Egypt after being repeatedly detained by the authorities over his work and views.
Since it was posted on Tuesday, the appeal has collected over $13,000 in pledges. Gaber says he needs $100,000 to obtain nationality from a place such as the Caribbean island nation of Dominica.
Obtaining a second nationality and renouncing the Egyptian one has been a tactic used successfully in the past by defendants seeking to leave the country.
The blogger, who has amassed over 15 million views for his videos questioning the existence of God, says he faces five different criminal charges including blasphemy, supporting homosexuality and "religious extremism". He says each charge carries a possible prison sentence of 15 years.
Despite having no criminal record, Gaber says Egyptian security agents have prevented him from leaving the country despite several attempts over the years, confiscating his passport without giving a reason on his last attempt to flee to Malaysia in October.
"Some asked me to try and legally remove my name from the 'Banned from leaving list'," he wrote on his page, adding that that was impossible because he has not been added to the no-fly list legally. "National Security is the one which banned me... not the court. And the court has no authority over National Security."
Egypt has undergone an unprecedented suppression of free speech under General-turned-President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who came to power after overthrowing an elected but contested Islamist president in 2013.
Since then, authorities have jailed thousands of people, mainly Islamists but also prominent secular activists, including many of those behind Egypt's 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Egypt has also been accused of arbitrary detention, disappearances and torture, and has silenced most independent media.
The crackdown has extended to those who contravene cultural norms, with edgy comedy shows being shut down and people seen as supporting LGBT rights arrested or heavily sanctioned.
Egypt's constitution outlaws insults against the three recognised monotheist religions - Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Authorities have recently stepped up measures to counter atheism, which is frowned upon by the majority of the country's conservative society.
Gaber faces multiple blasphemy charges, and says his impassioned plea is something he knows brings the risk of facing further charges for "intentionally defaming Egypt, like anyone who tries to express what he feels about this country".
But he seems willing to take the risk as a last resort.
"I've blamed myself for every moment I spent in this country, I blamed myself for every second I had the chance to leave this place but chose not to... for having chosen this county over my freedom and sense of security," he said.
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