Minutes after he was freed from York County Prison Tuesday, Egyptian native Sameh Khouzam sat smiling and laughing with family and friends at his mother's small York City apartment.

His mother, Georgette Shehata, was cooking dinner while friends embraced Khouzam and filled every seat in the living room and kitchen to sit and speak to him for the first time in almost seven months.

"It's very exciting and I'm relieved now," Khouzam said. "Of course I'm happy to be out finally. So it's a good feeling."

Khouzam had been held at York County Prison since May 29 when he was taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Since then, the government has been attempting to deport Khouzam back to Egypt, where he is wanted for murder.

But Khouzam, 38, claims Egyptian officials have framed him because he is a Christian and has refused to convert to Islam. He claims he fled to the United States in 1998 because Egyptian officials had tortured him because of his religious beliefs.

He has been fighting along with attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union to stop his deportation to Egypt, where Khouzam says he will be tortured again.

The U.S. State Department claims it has obtained assurances that Khouzam would not be tortured if he were returned to Egypt. Last week U.S. District Judge Thomas I. Vanaskie ruled that Khouzam had provided "credible" evidence that he was tortured in Egypt, and that the United States government had denied Khouzam due process by refusing to let the diplomatic assurances it had obtained from Egypt be reviewed by a court.


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Judge ordered release: Vanaskie ruled that the government could not deport Khouzam to Egypt and that he must be released from York County Prison. The government fought for a stay on the release order, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit denied the appeal Monday and ordered Khouzam to be released.

It is the second time Khouzam has been released from prison since he fled to the United States.

Khouzam was held in several prisons in the United States from 1998 to 2006, including York County Prison, while he fought deportation.

He was released from prison in 2006 after a 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled that it is more likely than not that he would be tortured if he were returned to Egypt. The court ruled he could not be deported under the Convention Against Torture, which prohibits a person from being deported to a country where it is believed he will be tortured.

Charles Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, said Tuesday that the government has not filed an appeal against Vanaskie's ruling last week that Khouzam could not be deported.

"We're still considering our options," Miller said.

Kathleen Lucas, a friend of Khouzam and local coordinator for Amnesty International, said "no news is good news" in terms of government efforts to deport Khouzam.

But after two extended stays in prison, Khouzam is now "terrified" that he will be returned to prison or deported, Lucas said.

Khouzam's imprisonment and the question of whether he would be deported have left him noticeably beleaguered. He said he's lost 50 pounds and he appears exhausted.

'Not surprising': His attorney Amrit Singh of the ACLU, said Khouzam has suffered "psychological trauma" from being abruptly taken into custody and detained for the past seven months.

"He's a torture victim, so it's not surprising," Singh said. After he was released Tuesday, Khouzam said his reunion with his mother was very emotional.

"I haven't been able to touch her in some time so it was pretty emotional," he said. "I gave her a hug and a kiss. We were happy."

Throughout his imprisonment, Khouzam said he was able to stay strong with the help of his friends and God. In addition to the numerous human rights groups that have rallied behind Khouzam in recent months, the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in York Township also held a service in June to pray for Khouzam's release.

"I'm very appreciative and grateful for all the support I got from my friends and from my lawyers and all the congregation ... my church, everybody," Khouzam said. "I would like to thank everybody for everything they've done. Not just this time, but you know, from before."

Khouzam said he plans to rest for a few days and will try to get a work permit so he can return to his job in real estate in Lancaster County, where he was living before he was taken into custody in May.

After months of fighting for her son's release, Shehata, who lives at Broad Park Manor on East Philadelphia Street, said she is relieved to have Khouzam back at home.

"I was worried," she said. "Worried waiting for my son to come. But thank God. ... Now, my son is out."

-- Reach Brock Parker at 505-5434 or bparker@yorkdispatch.com.