WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Congressman Mark Pocan (D-WI-02), and Member of Parliament Rushanara Ali led 52 Members of Congress and British Parliamentarians in a bilateral letter to President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson in calling on the countries to intensify efforts to curb Egypt’s human rights abuses against critics of the Egyptian government. The lawmakers in a letter specifically ask the President and Prime Minister to leverage diplomatic relationships to end the arbitrary and unjust travel bans, asset freezes, and lengthy pretrial detentions President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has imposed on critics and dissidents of the Egyptian government.
“Travel bans and bank freezes form an important element of the Egyptian authorities’ extensive architecture of repression, which includes the holding of thousands of people in pretrial detention, often without evidence of wrongdoing and for merely exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and free expression,” said the bilateral group of lawmakers
The lawmakers continued, “We urge you to consider unlawful travel bans, asset freezes and pretrial detentions as serious deprivations of liberty, and to use your leverage with your partners in the Egyptian government to immediately resolve these issues. By doing so, the US and the UK will be playing a meaningful role in protecting Egyptian civil society and holding the Egyptian government to the level of accountability that we strive for in our defense, security and commercial partners around the world.”
Full text of the letter is available here and below:
We write, as members of the United States Congress and UK Parliament, to ask you to intensify the efforts of your governments to lift arbitrary and unjust travel bans, asset freezes and lengthy pretrial detentions imposed on human rights activists, lawyers and others by the Egyptian government. We ask that you leverage your strong relationship with Egypt to help end these unlawful and unjust punitive actions.
Since President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi came to power in 2014, the Egyptian authorities have escalated the abuse of travel bans and asset freezes against critics, activists, and others, negatively impacting American and British families, universities, and civil society. The bans, such as those on staff of the Egyptian Institute for Personal Rights (EIPR), are a critical\ component of Egypt’s wider crackdown on civil society, allowing the government to silently punish its critics without the international attention that prison sentences or lengthy pretrial detention attract.
A joint report by Human Rights Watch and FairSquare released last week finds that travel bans have separated families, damaged careers, and taken a profound personal toll on the mental health of those affected. Some of the 15 Egyptians interviewed for the report, including several with direct links to the US and UK, have been unable to leave Egypt for six years. Another report by the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy and the Freedom Initiative details the arbitrary, open-ended nature of the bans and the inability of those affected to challenge them through legal means.
Five current or former employees of the EIPR are under travel bans imposed for political purposes: Gasser Abdel Razek, Hossam Bahgat, Mohammed Basheer, Karim Ennarah and Patrick Zaki. Many of the signatories to this letter advocated for the unconditional release of Abdel Razek, Basheer and Ennarah in November 2020, when all three were arrested following a meeting with European and Canadian diplomats. There was much celebration when they were quickly released the following month, with President Sisi stating in 2021 that the case was related to administrative issues with the EIPR’s registration. Despite this, all three were barred from leaving the country. Four of the five have their assets frozen, which leaves them unable to work or lead any sort of normal life. Meanwhile, they live with the threat of re-arrest under terrorism charges, which the authorities could re-activate at any time.
Before his arrest, Karim Ennarah was set to move to London to be with his wife, a British filmmaker. The ban has forced him into a long-distance relationship and he is unable to work due to the asset freeze. Gamal Eid, the founder of The Arab Network for Human Rights Information, has been under a travel ban since 2016. Eid’s wife, a US citizen, and daughter moved to New York in 2017. The ban has prevented Eid from visiting them and as a result, his green card has expired. Graduate student Waleed Salem has been separated from his daughter for four years and unable to finish his PhD at the University of Washington. Aida Seif El Dawla, a psychiatrist and prominent anti-torture campaigner whose work has won numerous international awards, has been banned from travel since 2016.
Travel bans and bank freezes form an important element of the Egyptian authorities’ extensive architecture of repression, which includes the holding of thousands of people in pretrial detention, often without evidence of wrongdoing and for merely exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and free expression. The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders last year expressed dismay at the continued use of pretrial detention orders, under the pretext of anti-terrorism and national security laws, to persecute human rights defenders. Indeed, as the Freedom Initiative and TIMEP report documents, travel bans often precede or follow periods of pretrial detention, leaving those subjected to them vulnerable to arrest at any time. EIPR researcher Patrick Zaki spent 22 months in pre-trial detention before being released and placed under a travel ban.
Egypt is hosting COP27 this year, which President Al-Sisi has declared “the year of civil society.” As such, all eyes will be on Egypt and its partners to maintain an open environment for civil society to operate. We urge you to consider unlawful travel bans, asset freezes and pretrial detentions as serious deprivations of liberty, and to use your leverage with your partners in the Egyptian government to immediately resolve these issues. By doing so, the US and the UK will be playing a meaningful role in protecting Egyptian civil society and holding the Egyptian government to the level of accountability that we strive for in our defense, security and commercial partners around the world. Privately raising these cases with President Sisi and his foreign minister has not yielded the results we would like to see. It is imperative that the United States and the United Kingdom act.
We are grateful for your personal engagement in this pressing matter. We look forward to your reply.