Libyan Professor’s Life at Risk After Exposing Fake Diploma Ring

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.”

Diploma Mills

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.

‘Tribal Rule’

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.

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