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Egyptian rights groups denounce 'excessive' travel bans against activists

Over 47 percent of those banned from travel were human rights advocates [Getty]

Date of publication: 24 November, 2016

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Human rights groups in Egypt are warning of a surge in the "excessive and arbitrary" use of travel bans as a "tool of repression" against activists, academics, and intellectuals.

Egypt's rights groups are warning of "increasingly excessive and arbitrary" travel bans against activists, academics, intellectuals, and figures from the media and political opposition in the past two years.

In a joint report released on Wednesday, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) described orders of travel ban as an "unconstitutional form of political retaliation and psychological harassment".

The 45-page report documents 80 cases of people who were banned from travel over the period from June 2014 to September 2016.

It details dozens of testimonies from individuals subjected to travel bans, who were informed of the ban only after they reached the airport and were prepared to depart.

"The travel ban has been drastically distorted from a reasonable precautionary measure into an overreaching security tool grossly exploited to stifle political dissent," the report read.

"[It] has become one of the most significant tools of repression in Egypt, aimed at indirectly deterring and intimidating Egyptians, as well as some non-Egyptians, inside and outside of the country."

Most of the travel bans documented by the report involve "unlawful practices and procedures", including illegal interrogation and inspection as well as the confiscation of their personal papers and their passports.

At least 47.5 percent of those subjected to travel bans are human rights advocates, the report found.

It also addressed the absence of a law regulating travel ban procedures and the notification of persons barred.

Documented cases

On Wednesday, airport security stopped prominent human rights advocate Aida Seif al-Dawla as she prepared to board a flight to Tunisa to attend a conference for NGOs working with victims of violence.

The psychiatrist and co-founder of the Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence was told by the security authorities at Cairo international airport that she could not leave the country because her name was on a travel-ban list.

An airport security official said the ban was based on her involvement in an ongoing trial implicating many active human rights groups in Egypt.

Translation: Security officials at Cairo international airport have banned Dr. Aida Seif al-Dawla from travelling to Tunisia to attend a conference for organisations working on the rehabilitation of victims of violence.

In another case, prominent human rights lawyer Malek Adly was stopped and questioned by airport security earlier this month as he was about to board a flight to France.

"They told me I was banned from travel and gave me no reason," he told Reuters at the time.

"First they said there was an arrest warrant and I explained that it had already been carried out and I was released," he added.

"Then they said an investigating magistrate had ordered the ban due to my involvement in a case, but there is no case. Whatever it is, it is political."

In July, leading human rights lawyer Nasser Amin was banned from travelling to Beirut after airport authorities said he was blacklisted over a court case linked to receiving illegal foreign funds.

Translation: I have been banned from travel from Cairo International Airport to Beirut, where I was heading to take part in a legal conference.

In February, Egyptian rights activist Gamal Eid has been prevented from travelling after attempting to board a flight from Cairo to Athens.

"In a law-respecting country, a citizen is accused, investigated, and then banned from travel. In Egypt and other police states, they are banned from travel without being told why," Eid said in a tweet following his ban.

Later that month, investigative journalist and human rights advocate Hossam Bahgat was also stopped from boarding a flight to Jordan, where was heading to participate in a UN meeting on justice in the Arab world.

"I was just told that my name was included among those banned from travelling outside of the country by an order from Egypt's top prosecutor without providing me with more details or a court case record," Bahgat said in a Facebook post at the time.

'Contempt of the constitution'

According to article 62 of the Egyptian constitution, travel bans should be issued by a judicial body and a specific duration and cause must be provided.

However, regulating the lists of persons banned from travel is left to the interior minister, which the report described as a "clear contempt" of the constitution.

"While various security agencies issued the majority of bans discussed in this report - bans that contravene the constitution - the judicial bodies have also issued open-ended bans without stating grounds, informing the persons affected, or conducting an investigation," the report said.

"In this regard, the security and judicial bodies stand in equal contempt of the constitution."

The security and judicial bodies stand in equal contempt of the constitution.
- Joint report

Meanwhile, article 54 requires all persons whose freedom is restricted to be immediately notified of the reasons for the restriction.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Egypt ratified in 1982, upholds the freedom of movement of persons, clearly stating that there should be no restrictions placed on this freedom except in cases specified by law.

The report concluded by six recommendations from CIHRS and AFTE, urging the interior ministry, judicial bodies and the prosecution to respect constitutional, stop targeting rights advocates, and comply with legal statutes and the principles of court rulings.

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