Prominent human rights lawyer Gamal Eid found out he was banned from travel on Thursday when he was preparing to board a flight at the Cairo International Airport.
Eid is a lawyer with the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that advocates for freedom of expression in the Middle East and North Africa.
Airport authorities allegedly told Eid the ban was based on judicial order, but the lawyer received no prior notification regarding that decision, nor has he been notified if he is accused in any criminal cases, ANHRI said in a Thursday statement.
“In a state of law, a citizen is accused, then interrogated, then could be banned from traveling. In Egypt and police states, you are banned from travel and you don’t know why,” Eid tweeted after the incident.
Today, arbitrary travel bans blocking access to or departure from Egypt have become par for the course, the ANHRI statement argued, describing such bans as another symptom of escalating police impunity and a state of “lawlessness.”
“Has the public prosecution switched from being an investigative body that looks for the truth, to a body that searches for an accusation? When will those in charge of administering justice in Egypt realize that losing trust in the system is the most dangerous threat to this society?” Eid wrote in the statement.
There has been a recent surge in travel bans against Egyptian human rights activists. In mid-January, poet and activist Omar Hazek was briefly detained at the Cairo International Airport when he attempted to board a flight to the Netherlands, where he was scheduled to receive an award celebrating freedom of speech.
Hazek — who was sentenced to two years in prison for illegally protesting in Alexandria and released following a presidential pardon last year — was held in custody at the airport for several hours and told that he was banned from travel due to security concerns. Hazek was later allowed to leave the airport with his passport and belongings.
Some of the travel ban decisions appear linked a foreign funding case dating back to 2011, which implicated a number of human rights activists working for NGOs. While none of the activists were formally charged with illegally receiving foreign funds, Egyptian human rights groups claim the case has been used as a pretext to prevent the defendants from traveling, and that the bans constitute harassment and a gross violation of basic constitutional rights.
Hossam al-Din Ali and Ahmed Ghoneim both direct the Egyptian Democratic Institute, and have been banned from travel since December 2014. Esraa Abdel Fattah, who formerly worked in the same institute, has also been banned from traveling. The three activists claim the judge looking into the foreign funding case issued the travel ban order.
More recently, Egyptian-German researcher Atef Botros was banned from entering Egypt by airport security officials on January 30 and detained overnight at the airport. Local media reported security officials were acting on information from the Egyptian Embassy in Berlin. However, his brother Sherif told Mada Masr that Botros was targeted due to his activities as a co-founder of Mayadin al-Tahrir, a German-Egyptian NGO founded after the revolution that often maintains an opposition stance.