Egypt | CIHRS and AFTE Challenge Unconstitutional Interior Minister Decree on Travel Bans

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On Tuesday June 20th, the Administrative Court held the fourth hearing on an appeal filed by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) in December 2016, challenging Interior Minister Decree 2214/1994 and its amendments, most recently Decree 1330/2014 regulating the list of persons banned from travel. The decree acts as the legal basis for the Egyptian authorities’ increasing issuance of travel bans as an unlawful, unconstitutional means of intimidation and coercion in their campaign to silence dissident and independent voices. Nearly 80 travel bans were issued from June 2014 to September 2016, as documented by “No Exit,” a joint report issued by   CIHRS and AFTE in November of last year. The heightened prevalence of these bans is effectively transforming Egypt’s borders into the walls of a massive open-air prison.

The appeal seeks an expedited stay of the interior minister’s decree and its amending decrees; in essence, the petition seeks to have the decree overturned. CIHRS and AFTE submitted a brief demonstrating that the decree violates Article 62 of the Egyptian Constitution, which upholds the right to freedom of movement, residence, and emigration. Article 62 states that any restriction of this right must be enacted by a law passed by the legislative branch, and applied pursuant to a judicial order for a specific duration. The decree was not issued by the legislative and judicial branches as stipulated by Article 62 but by the interior minister – a representative of the executive branch – which has no jurisdiction to issue such a decree.

This represents a serious breach known as the usurpation of authority; when one branch of government infringes upon the jurisdiction of another, thus undermining the separation of powers. Furthermore, Article 11 of Law 97/1959 on Passports – the legal basis upon which the interior minister relied to issue the decree- was found unconstitutional by the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC). Article 11 of this law, which authorizes the foreign minister to issue decrees regulating the freedom of movement, is invalid.  Only the legislature, the SCC ruled, has the authority to regulate freedom of movement, and it cannot delegate this power to the executive.

Once a preventive judicial measure issued in line with strict guidelines against suspects posing a flight risk, over the last two years travel bans have become an increasingly arbitrary measure issued by security or judicial order to retaliate against political and rights activists, academics, and media figures for opinions and stances perceived to challenge or oppose the current regime and its security apparatus. Bahey eldin Hassan and Mohamed Zaree of CIHRS are included among those banned from travel. In the month of November alone, the Egyptian authorities banned five more people from travel, including rights lawyers Malek Adly and Ahmed Ragheb, human rights defenders Azza Soliman and Aida Seif al-Dawla, and media figure Amr Leithi.  The use of travel bans to harass activists has continued into the current year, with rights lawyer Negad al-Borai learning he was banned from travel while at the airport in January.

CIHRS and AFTE urge citizens and civil society institutions to adopt the appended petition for their own use to file similar suits against the interior minister decree 2214/1994 and its subsequent amendments; as a legal action to champion the humanity of all Egyptians. The right to freedom of movement is fundamental throughout the world; and must not be denied to any Egyptian on the basis of a decree that violates Egypt’s Constitution and the rule of law.

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