Washington, D.C. – Egyptian authorities are using politically motivated travel bans and other forms of travel-related restrictions to silence and control critical voices, the Freedom Initiative and the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy found in a new report released on Tuesday.
The report, Abuse of Travel Bans in Egypt, highlights the arbitrary nature in which unlawful travel bans are applied and the devastating effect they have on individuals’ personal and professional lives.
“While they may claim these are lesser administrative measures, Egyptian authorities are using travel bans as yet another tool in an arsenal of repression,” said Allison McManus, the Freedom Initiative’s Director of Research. “These bans represent a severe deprivation of liberty that warrants an international response, and they should be condemned like any other rights violation.”
Egyptian authorities routinely target individuals from various political and professional backgrounds with travel bans and other travel-related restrictions, often without legal justification. The report documents travel bans issued against members of civil society, including human rights defenders, psychologists, researchers, and their family members. Travel bans imposed against an individual can remain in effect for an indefinite duration, ranging from several weeks up to a decade at a time.
Because no laws explicitly govern travel bans in Egypt, they are often applied arbitrarily and without recourse to challenge them. Many individuals reported discovering they had been banned from travel at the airport when they attempted to leave the country. Without any notice or prior knowledge, these targeted individuals were often monitored by Egyptian authorities and randomly stopped by airport security agents who unlawfully denied their right to freedom of movement.
“Egyptian authorities systematically exploit the absence of a clear regulatory framework governing the application of travel bans,” said Mai El-Sadany, Managing Director and Legal and Judicial Director of TIMEP. “Those who learn they are banned from travel and their lawyers often find they have no recourse to challenge the bans or ensure their rights are protected.”
While travel bans receive less attention than arbitrary detention and other forms of state-sanctioned violence, they can take a devastating toll on personal and professional lives. Travel bans deprive people of educational and professional opportunities, prevent them from seeking vital medical treatment outside the country, and prevent people from reuniting with their family and loved ones abroad.
Those facing travel bans also report serious harm to their psychological and emotional well-being. Trapped in an environment rife with trauma and constant threat of arrest or re-arrest, targeted persons reported feeling depression and despair and feelings of isolation.
“Unlawful and arbitrary travel-related restrictions directly violate the right to freedom of movement and restrict other human rights guaranteed under international human rights law,” said Meroua Zouai, TIMEP’s Legal Associate. “Egyptian authorities must uphold their binding international treaty obligations and refrain from issuing politically motivated travel bans amid the government’s broader crackdown on fundamental freedoms.”