According to today’s statement from FairSquare and Human Rights Watch, Egypt is utilizing arbitrary travel bans to target important members of civil society for their nonviolent work, including rights attorneys, journalists, feminists, and researchers.
The bans have hurt people’s mental health, divided families, and wrecked professions. Authorities rarely openly declare them, and there is no apparent method to challenge them in court.
According to James Lynch, director of FairSquare, “arbitrary and open-ended travel bans enable the Egyptian authorities to impose a life-altering system of punishment that is barely visible to anyone but individuals whose lives they are wrecking.”
The restrictions have given Egypt the freedom to stomp on its detractors covertly without worrying about offending its financiers and allies in London, Paris, or Washington, DC.
These arbitrary, oppressive tactics must stop right away in Egypt.
Human Rights Watch and FairSquare interviewed 15 Egyptians who had been given travel restrictions by the government, some of which were up to six years long.
Human Rights Watch has previously reported that the administration of President Abdelfattah al-Sisi has routinely used travel restrictions to obstruct the travel of several individuals who are either genuine or perceived enemies.
The Freedom Initiative and the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy have both written about the subject.
The organizations discovered that a 1994 decree from the interior minister gave security agents broad authority to impose travel bans without a judge’s approval for a renewable three-year period.
People who were subject to travel restrictions told FairSquare and Human Rights Watch that they typically discovered their restrictions while they were seeking to board a flight and that the authorities lacked clear legal avenues for them to challenge these restrictions in court. One person said that after petitioning the public prosecutor, his request was denied without any justification.
Another attempted to have the prohibition lifted in criminal court, while a third petitioned Egypt’s state council, which oversees the administrative courts, to get involved.
However, in all instances, their pleas were turned down. The bans’ arbitrary nature is further highlighted by the absence of a firm legal foundation for them and any avenues for legal appeal.
Six of the 15 people who were questioned have had asset freezes, which have completely cut them off from the financial system.
These asset freezes and travel restrictions have had a disastrous long-term impact on people’s lives.
Almost everyone who was questioned spoke about losing job possibilities and income.
Many claimed that their mental health had been severely harmed by the psychological effects of not knowing when these arbitrary restrictions would disappear.
They also discourage the public from criticizing the government, which chills human rights action.
Graduate student Waleed Salem, who has been apart from his daughter for four years because she resides abroad, was unable to complete his Ph.D. at the University of Washington.
He referred to his travel ban’s indefinite nature as a “open-ended nightmare.”
Karim Ennarah, a human rights advocate, has been separated from his wife for 18 months; they intended to live together in London. Karim feels “like I’m single-handedly killing our marriage.”
A travel ban prohibited Nasser Amin, a well-known attorney, from speaking at the International Criminal Court about war crimes in Darfur in April. He had spent 20 years working on the case, which was his “lifelong dream.”
Azza Soliman, a well-known feminist lawyer and the founder of the Centre for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance, was prevented from working for the United Nations because she lost access to the banking system as a result of an arbitrary asset freeze that had been in place since 2016 and prevented her from receiving a salary.
She was also unable to sell her car because doing so would constitute the transfer of an asset.
A rights advocate named Gasser Abdel Razek said that he was prevented from renewing the license for his car, ostensibly because it is an asset.
Members of civil society who frequently interacted with decision-makers in the US, Europe, and the UN have effectively been marginalized by the travel bans.
Since 2016, Mohamed Zaree, the head of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies in Egypt, has been prohibited from traveling, which prevents him from going to occasions like the 2019 Universal Periodic Review of Egypt’s record on human rights.
Upon her return from the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Conference in Prague in 2018, security personnel took Mahienour El-award-winning Massry’s passport.
She was jailed arbitrary until July 2021 after being arrested in September 2019 during the crackdown on anti-government protesters.
As part of a new human rights plan Egypt launched in 2021 after 32 UN Human Rights Council members questioned its record on human rights, President al-Sisi designated 2022 the “Year of Civil Society.”
Due to its hosting of COP27, the international climate meeting, in November 2022, the administration has drawn attention from throughout the world.
In view of the country’s human rights problems, which includes the widespread imprisonment of civil society activists and human rights defenders, as well as legislation that criminalize peaceful assembly, Human Rights Watch has criticized the choice of Egypt as being “glaringly poor.”
Everyone has the right to leave any country, including their own, according to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, both of which Egypt has ratified.
Both treaties give nations the option to limit that right, but they must be expressly stipulated by law, required in a democracy, proportionate to safeguard national security, public order, health, morals, or the rights and freedoms of others, and consistent with other rights (including equality and nondiscrimination).
Any restrictions must not negate the fundamental nature of the right in order to be acceptable.
Travel restrictions imposed as retaliation for nonviolent activism, as they were in the circumstances of the people interviewed, are arbitrary and a violation of human rights, even when they are a result of a politically motivated criminal investigation into such activism.
Any person who is affected by a travel ban ought to be entitled to challenge the ban in court.
In Article 62 of the Egyptian Constitution, the right to freedom of movement is guaranteed. It adds that in order to impose such limitations, a justified judicial ruling is necessary, and even then, the restrictions should only be in place for a predetermined amount of time. None of the situations mentioned here met these conditions.
Amr Magdi, senior Middle East and North Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “The Egyptian authorities should unconditionally lift all travel bans imposed to repress human rights defenders or prevent other members of civil society from carrying out their work and end the practice of imposing arbitrary bans.”
The US and UK, which are home to the families of some people subject to travel restrictions, should pressure Cairo to stop taking such actions, according to Egypt’s strategic partners.
Open-Ended Use of Asset Freezes and Travel Bans
The 1994 interior minister’s edict allows security officials the authority to add anyone to the lists of people who are not allowed to travel. It makes no mention of notifying or informing persons who have been added to a list.
It indicates that appeal petitions might be submitted to an administrative body that is mostly composed of security officers rather than judicial officials.
No proof of the existence of such a committee has been discovered by Human Rights Watch or Fairsquare, and none of the people contacted for this report claimed to have been able to get in touch with it.
Egyptian authorities have imposed arbitrary travel bans as a form of punishment even when the public prosecution, a judge, or a court are involved.
In connection with the infamous Case 173 of 2011, in which the state has been looking into dozens of nongovernmental organizations for receiving foreign funds, travel bans have been put in place against more than 30 activists since 2015.
Fewer than a few of these campaigners were able to travel abroad until late 2021 and early 2022.
Even though no one has been put on trial, many of the people named in the investigation are nonetheless subject to prohibitions.
Their assets have been frozen for years for many of the nongovernmental group workers charged in Case 173. 11 activists from Case 173 still have their assets frozen as of this writing, including 2 who were successful in having their travel restrictions lifted.
The Banned, please
Open-ended travel bans and asset freezes have been used by Egypt to punish its detractors.
Despite the fact that these people were spared a life in jail, the measures have a negative impact on their personal and professional lives. Here are some of their tales.
War Crimes Attorney
A well-known human rights attorney named Nasser Amin has spent the last 20 years gathering evidence to prosecute war criminals for the atrocities committed in Sudan’s Darfur region.
As the first case from the Arab world to be heard before the International Criminal Court, he was chosen by the court in December 2021 to represent Darfur victims.
Most nations would celebrate Amin’s victory, but Egypt forbade him from going to the April 5, 2022, inaugural session.
Amin serves as the organization’s head and promotes judicial independence through the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and Legal Profession (ACIJLP).
Amin and Hoda Abdelwahab, the executive director of ACIJLP and his wife, are among at least 31 nonprofit organization employees who have been prohibited from traveling since 2015. Case 173, in which Egypt accuses nongovernmental organizations of receiving foreign funds, has their organization at the center of its attention.
An investigative court started wrapping up his inquiries into some of the entities and people in 2021.
Amin, who was a member of the National Council for Human Rights under the al-Sisi administration, initially believed this meant he would be permitted to proceed to the Hague.
The public prosecutor, however, did not react to his invitation to travel.
Amin stated, “It was my longtime dream. He explained that because he could only watch the meeting online, he was unable to participate in the discussion.
Amin’s career has suffered greatly as a result of the travel prohibition.
He was unable to apply for positions with the UN that dealt with mandates involving torture and extrajudicial killings because of it.
He claimed that following a media smear campaign connected to Case 173, his clients in Cairo began to leave his private practice.
Many clients fled the firm out of fear, he claimed. He claimed that so many people departed that he had to sell his office space in order to pay for his two children’s college fees.
Amin claims that because seeing a plane pass overhead makes him think of the prohibition, he is unable to stand to watch it. Even simply hearing the sound hurts, he claimed.
Amin claimed that hiring new employees has never been this difficult to FairSquare and Human Rights Watch. He claimed that banning all human rights advocates “sends a dangerous message to the next generation.”
“Today, no one can pursue human rights without paying a significant price.”
A visiting scholar at the American University in Cairo, Waleed Salem is a political science PhD student at the University of Washington.
As he left the Cairo office of a constitutional expert in May 2018, as he was completing his dissertation study on Egypt’s judiciary, plainclothes officers arrested, blindfolded, and pushed him into a car.
He admitted, “It was one of my last interviews.” I was slated to return to Seattle in June to resume my teaching duties.
Instead, he was imprisoned at Cairo’s Tora prison for almost seven months on suspicions that he had joined a terrorist group and had disseminated rumors.
Since then, Salem has been prohibited from leaving Egypt by the authorities.
The prosecutor’s request to keep him behind bars was denied by the judge during a hearing on December 3, 2018.
A week later, he was freed. For the following fourteen months, he was required to report to a police station twice each week as part of his probationary release order.
He had received no information upon release suggesting that he was subject to a travel prohibition.
After completing probation, he attempted to return to the United States in May 2020.
He was questioned by national security officials at the airport, and his passport was taken.
Salem claims that his time in prison was less difficult than the subsequent “unbounded nightmare of open-ended captivity.”
He had intended to move prior to his arrest in order to be closer to his 13-year-old daughter, who resides in Poland with his ex-wife.
Because his ex-wife is reluctant to bring their daughter to Egypt, he hasn’t seen her in more than four years.
“My daughter was a little over 100 cm tall the last time I saw her in February 2018.
She is about 165 cm tall at this time. She is a completely different individual.
His PhD has been delayed by the prohibition. His fellowship money, which was conditional on him teaching classes in Seattle, was withdrawn by the University of Washington.
His main source of income, the teaching grant, was intended to go toward paying off college loans. Because I’m barely producing any money, I’m now dependent on my siblings, he claimed.
He became depressed as a result of the entire situation.
He has been unable to write, and he is concerned that conducting additional interviews in Egypt might be too dangerous.
In letters to Egypt’s president, attorney general, and National Council for Human Rights, the University of Washington and several US-based academic societies, including the Middle East Studies Association and the American Political Science Association, asked that Salem be permitted to leave Egypt and resume his studies.
None of the letters, however, received a response.
After eight months of consideration, Salem’s own plea to the public prosecutor to lift the prohibition was denied in February without any justification. Salem has spent the previous ten years researching Egypt’s judicial system, but he hasn’t been able to use this knowledge to help himself. Salem remarked, “I’m struggling to comprehend the cruelty of severing a father’s relationship with his daughter for unknown reasons — and with such simplicity.”
Internationally Known Activists
After the November 2020 arrests of the then-director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), Gasser Abdel Razek, and his colleagues Karim Ennarah and Mohammed Basheer, international outcry of their incarceration resulted to authorities releasing them after 15 days. Several celebrities, including Scarlett Johansson, Stephen Fry, and Emma Thompson, had fought for their release.
The three quickly learned, however, that they had been the targets of arbitrary asset and travel freezes.
Ennarah’s attorney went to the prosecutor’s office to inquire whether whether there was a ban against him when airport security authorities refused to allow him board a plane, claiming a “legal order.”
Officials there claimed to be unaware of any such legal orders. Abdel Razek’s attorney had to go to the prosecutor’s office before anyone called an unnamed “agency” and confirmed that a ban had been put in place.
They haven’t yet received a hearing to contest the asset freeze, and the courts have turned down their pleas to contest the travel bans.
As part of Case 173, Hossam Bahgat, the founder of the EIPR, has also been subject to asset freezes and travel restrictions since 2016.
According to Bahgat, “it doesn’t produce headlines like pictures of people in handcuffs and in cages and there’s no anger following a travel ban.” Patrick Zaki, the group’s fifth member, was freed from pretrial custody in December 2021 after serving 22 months of the sentence. He is currently subject to a travel ban.
A key group in the nation since its founding in 2002, the EIPR has been under fire from al-government Sisi’s for its efforts to expose and campaign against human rights abuses. The group and its members must deal with a number of restrictions that make it nearly hard for them to conduct themselves regularly.
The EIPR employees who are subject to asset and travel freezes claimed that these policies have destroyed their personal and professional selves. Ennarah was planning to relocate to London to be with his wife, a British filmmaker, before he was arrested.
The restriction has forced them into a long-distance relationship because he is unable to travel and she is unable to shift her work to Egypt; as a result, he feels “lonely because of the separation but also guilty most of the time.”
Because they would not or could not pay Ennarah outside of the financial system, a number of institutions, including an Egyptian university, withdrew their offers to him.
There are times when I feel incredibly down and alone. Being unable to work is really burdensome.
It’s always in a precarious financial and legal situation. I’ve been approached for a couple jobs, but every time they back out after learning I have a bank freeze, he stated.
For individuals who are impacted by the bans, one of the most challenging elements is that they cannot be challenged and are open-ended. “The idea of being locked in place forever is never far from my thoughts. I’m aware that the procedure is only outwardly lawful, Ennarah stated.
Ennarah stated that many people who are subject to bans find it challenging to appeal for international help and solidarity for their causes since so many other lawyers, journalists, and human rights advocates are incarcerated in Egypt and subjected to torture and unfair trials. “Persecution through silence is incredibly effective. precisely because there are a large number of prisoners.
In comparison, it’s virtually regarded as a tiny price to pay.
A significant international organization rejected Abdel Razek for a top position after learning that he was a “terror suspect” in an ongoing investigation.
“What we’ve learned the hard way is that people assume the case is over when you’re released,” he said.
I therefore had three [job] interviews, and the final one was with the organization’s executive.
I had the impression at the most recent interview that they were unaware that I was a “terrorism suspect.” He was unable to renew his car’s license due to the asset freeze.
Few human rights advocates, except the EIPR, have alarmed the Egyptian government as much as attorney Gamal Eid.
He has campaigned for free speech and exposed the state’s most heinous rights violations for many years.
He has received various international honors for his work.
If he were imprisoned, there would probably be widespread outrage around the world. Egypt has confined him in another way to avoid this.
The Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), one of the organizations implicated in Case 173, was founded by Eid.
In connection with the lawsuit, Eid’s assets were frozen and he was subject to a travel ban in 2016.
ANHRI declared in January 2022 that it was ceasing operations as a result of the government crackdown, but Eid has persisted as one of the state’s most outspoken adversaries.
In 2017, Eid’s US-citizen wife and daughter relocated to New York. Eid was unable to see them because of the prohibition. His US green card was therefore lost.
In addition, Eid lost a significant portion of his income from the human rights lectures, seminars, and workshops he frequently conducted prior to the ban.
Additionally, Eid was denied work with international and UN organizations. There have been numerous offers, but I am unable to work, he claimed.
He believes the perpetrators of two violent attacks against him in 2019 were either members of the security services or individuals acting on their behalf.
He shattered his ribs the first time, and in the second attack, he was pinned to the ground and painted.
In Egypt, it is against the law for people to carry walkie-talkies, according to Eid, who claimed that the attackers in the initial incident did. The same year, his vehicle was taken. The winch and a uniformed cop were captured on camera, according to Eid.
He borrowed a friend’s car, and that vehicle was also taken. He said that the judiciary did little nothing to look into the attacks.
The asset freeze was the deciding factor for Eid’s group after years of harassment, including arbitrary arrests of multiple staff members and various sorts of abuse.
Organizations were required by law to register with the government in 2019, but the asset freeze prevented this.
How can I register it if I can’t even sign the papers or open a bank account due to the asset freeze?
The Coptic Scholar
At the Cairo airport in February 2020, Patrick Zaki was being detained by agents of the National Security Agency after arriving from Italy.
Officers thrashed Zaki, shocked him with electricity, and blinded him for 17 hours while questioning him. A researcher with the EIPR, Zaki, 31, is a member of Egypt’s minority of Coptic Christians.
His accused offense is “spreading false news” in relation to an article he wrote in July 2019 regarding the discrimination Christians in Egypt experience on a daily basis. Zaki spent nearly two years in pretrial prison.
His trial was started in September 2021 by an Emergency State Security Court, whose judgments cannot be appealed, and in December 2021, the court ruled that he be released while the case was being heard.
He is awaiting the court’s final ruling and faces a maximum five-year prison term if found guilty.
At the University of Bologna, Zaki is a graduate student working toward a Master of Arts in gender studies. At the time of his arrest, he had just one semester under his belt.
promptly applied for a new passport to travel back to Italy the day after his release in December 2021 because his old one had been taken and never returned.
In order to start the semester and arrive in time for tests, he stated, “I wanted to travel right immediately.”
He had no reason to believe that a travel ban applied to him when the court ordered his release.
But soon after receiving a new passport, Zaki learned that he was prohibited from traveling until the matter is resolved through a middleman with contacts at the Interior Ministry. Zaki requested permission from the public prosecutor’s office to fly to Italy to finish his exams before the next court date. It denied the request without giving a justification.
Since then, Zaki’s court appearances have been set for later. The judge continued the case until September 27, 2022, at the most recent court hearing on June 21, 2022.
he initial hearing was postponed last September, and the current session will commemorate a complete year since then.
Due to the prolonged delay, Zaki may have to quit school.
His university declared that no further lessons or tests will be offered online starting in the fall of 2019 as a result of the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions.
He declared, “I won’t be able to finish my studies if I’m stuck here.” “It will cause a lot of harm.” Universities in Egypt do not provide a study abroad program of this nature.
He had intended to pursue a doctorate while continuing his advocacy work and study on gender and religious minorities in the Middle East. That strategy is now in danger. He declared, “I love academia and I adore human rights.”
I therefore wanted to pursue both simultaneously.
In order to pursue her own education, Zaki’s longtime boyfriend will travel back to Italy in September. He is concerned that his circumstances will force them apart. This is one of my biggest issues, he admitted.
The prohibition, he continued, has also prevented him from going to several significant professional conferences on human rights, including one recently hosted in Bologna by the Italian daily la Repubblica, at which he served as the keynote speaker.
I have a ton of conferences and very significant events I should be attending, but I can’t,” Zaki remarked. “This has a significant impact on my career.”