A Way to Harass Democracy Advocates and a Serious Violation to the Constitution

The undersigned organizations condemn the recent decisions to ban some democracy and human rights advocates from traveling, based on rulings of the investigative judge in the “foreign funding case.” The undersigned organizations reject the arbitrary travel bans without providing justifications, even if they have the guise of a judicial decision, and call for the lifting of the travel bans and revocation of these decisions immediately, as well as ending all harassment of human rights defenders and civil society organizations and their staff. The undersigned organizations also request a pluralistic atmosphere that allows freedom for civil society organizations to carry out their activities, especially before the parliamentary elections scheduled for March and April 2015.

 On December 5,  2014, Hossam al-Din Ali, Chairman of the Egyptian Democratic Institute and his deputy Ahmed Ghoneim were surprised to find their names included on the travel ban list, a piece of information they received while at Cairo airport on their way to attend Arab and international events related to human rights and democratization. According to a statement issued by the Egyptian Democratic Institute, the travel ban is predicated on a judicial investigation in connection to “the foreign funding case” dating back to 2011. In statements to the undersigned organizations, both Ali and Ghoneim mentioned that it has taken them several weeks to determine the justifications for their travel bans and know the details of the case against them.

Activist Israa Abdel Fattah, who previously worked in the same organization as Ali and Ghoneim, and who now heads the digital section in Al-Youm Al-Sabe’ Newspaper, was also prevented from traveling. Security personnel at Cairo airport stopped her from travelling citing a travel ban issued by an investigating judge.

The decision to ban democracy advocates Hossam al-Din Ali, Ahmed Ghoneim and Israa Abdel Fattah from traveling comes in the wake of a fierce crackdown by state agencies against civil society, which culminated in the Ministry of Social Solidarity ultimatum, giving NGO’s until November 10, 2014 to complete mandatory registration with the Ministry and warning that such organizations would face the threat of closure and imprisonment of their founders if they did not comply with the repressive NGO Law No 84/2002. Even though civil society organizations are still operating and none of them has been subject to official closure yet, despite attempts to restrict their action and constantly defame them, the recent travel ban decisions reveals that the state is now resorting to other methods to suppress civil society organizations and harass their staff, which exposes ongoing attempts to eliminate civil society.

The method with which the travel ban decisions against the three advocates were issued sheds light on the total absence of the rule of law. The legal proceedings leading up to these decisions are completely obscure. The advocates were not formally summoned to appear before the investigating judge, nor were they aware of the charges brought against them. The time frame during which those decisions are effective was and is still unclear. In the absence of transparency and an independent investigation, it is unknown whether other travel ban decisions would be issued against other activists and human rights defenders, and the justifications upon which those decisions would be based would also be unknown. It is worth mentioning that similar decisions had been issued against a number of political activists including former members of the People’s Assembly Dr. Amr Hamzawy and Dr. Mustafa al-Najjar, and political activist Asmaa Mahfouz, who were banned from travel almost a year ago without ever being called in for questioning. Thus one is led to believe that such decisions are only meant to harass dissenting opinions and be a form of extrajudicial punishment.

The undersigned organizations assert that these decisions are in direct contradiction with article 62 of the constitution, which requires that travel bans include a justification and a time frame. Needless to say, this decision also violates article 54 of the constitution which ensures that individual rights be protected from state authorities – including judicial authorities — and whomever is subject to any limitation of said rights should be informed immediately with the decision and its reasons. This did not happen in the above cases. The notification of a travel ban received from airport authorities cannot be considered a means of notification of the decision, especially because reasons for the ban and its duration were not relayed.

The proceedings related to the case of foreign funding, the stated reason behind the travel bans, began in 2011 amidst a large scale media smear campaign whereby several human rights defenders were charged with allegations meant to discredit and defame them. Members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the  junta governing Egypt at that time, participated in the smear campaign, going as far to accusing the human rights defenders of high treason and receiving foreign funds with the purpose of implementing foreign agendas to spread chaos in Egypt. The campaign included judicial investigations and the summoning of several human rights defenders for interrogation. The crackdown was unprecedented: security forces stormed the headquarters of a number of international and Egyptian organizations, confiscating their computers and documents, and referred 43 Egyptian and expatriate staff members to the criminal court which culminated in suspended prison sentences ranging from one to five years.

It is worth noting that the former assistant to the Minister of Justice stated on March 24, 2013, before a plenary session of the Shura (Consultative) Council, that the foreign funding case had not yet been closed and that the “investigation is still underway with regard to  Egyptian organizations, and an investigating judge delegated by the president of the Cairo appeals court is carrying out the investigations.”

Signatories to this statement express their shock at the continued harassment of human rights defenders and civil society organizations at a time when the country is preparing for a new round of parliamentary elections scheduled to take place this coming March and April. At a time when the state should be setting the stage for the elections within an environment of political pluralism and freedom, it instead attacks some of the most important actors in the electoral process, those who are working to raise voter awareness and monitor the electoral process.

Signatories:

  1. Cairo Institute for human rights studies (CIHRS)
  2. National group for human rights and law
  3. The Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement
  4. The Human Right Association for the Assistance of the Prisoners
  5. Arab Network for Human Rights Information
  6. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
  7. Alhaqanya Organization for Law firm and Law
  8. The Egyptian Center for Public Policy Studies (ECPPS)
  9. The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights
  10. El-Nadeem Centre for the rehabilitation of victims of violence and torture
  11. Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies
  12. Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance
  13. Egyptian Commission for rights and freedoms
  14. Arab Penal Reform Organization
  15. The New Woman Foundation
  16. Association for Freedom of Expression and of Thought
  17. Nazra for Feminist Studies
  18. The Human Rights Legal Assistance Group
  19. Misryon Against Religious Discrimination

This post is also available in: العربية