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Amnesty slams Egypt’s ‘arbitrary’ travel ban on researcher

The Egyptian authorities have imposed an arbitrary travel ban on former prisoner of conscience Ahmed Samir Santawy, human rights group Amnesty International said in a statement on Saturday.

Santawy is currently studying for a master’s degree in Austria. He attempted to leave Cairo International Airport Thursday morning for Vienna, but Egyptian immigration authorities prevented him from doing so without justification or judicial order, according to Amnesty.

“Despite talk of reform with the long-awaited launch of the National Dialogue in May, this is yet another outrageous example of the Egyptian authorities’ acts of repression to silence and control critical voices and punish anyone standing up for human rights”, said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s research and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Luther also called on the Egyptian authorities to “immediately revoke” all arbitrary travel bans on Egyptians “who are being targeted solely for peacefully exercising their human rights”.

Santawy, who studies anthropology at the Central European University in Vienna, was originally arrested in February 2021. The charge against him was “spreading false news” and he was subsequently sentenced to three years imprisonment following what Amnesty characterises as an “unfair trial”.

His conviction appears to have been solely based on social media posts critical of human rights violations in Egypt and the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic by the Egyptian state.

Following a global campaign, Santawy received a presidential pardon and was released in July 2022.

“It has been ten months since I was released from prison with a presidential pardon, however, I still feel that I’m still not completely free. My life is on hold,” Santawy told Amnesty.

“This travel ban is not just depriving me of my basic right to move freely after I was unjustly imprisoned … but it is also severely disrupting my life. I can’t pursue my academic career, and I can’t be with my partner in Belgium,” Santawy added.

Under powers introduced by the regime of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egyptian security forces can impose travel bans on any Egyptian citizen without judicial oversight and due process.

Egyptian authorities continue to impose bans on at least 18 human rights advocates and NGO workers from travelling abroad.

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