One of Egypt’s leading investigative journalists, Hossam Bahgat, was prevented from boarding a flight to Jordan today when officials at Cairo International Airport informed him that his name had been added to a list of citizens barred from traveling abroad.
Bahgat, who was detained and interrogated for three days in November by military intelligence officers, wrote on Facebook that officials at the airport told him that the order confining him to the country had come from Egypt’s public prosecutor, but they could provide no details of any case against him.
With some exasperation, the reporter pointed out that this surprise punishment by the Egyptian judicial system came as he was on his way to Jordan “to participate in the United Nations meeting on justice in the Arab world!”
The travel ban was quickly condemned by Egyptian activists, including Heba Morayef, the associate director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a prominent human rights group that Bahgat founded and led before turning his attention to journalism after the country’s 2011 revolution. Writing on Twitter, Morayef observed that the space for dissent against Egypt’s authoritarian government seemed to be narrowing, given that the restrictions on Bahgat were imposed just weeks after a similar ban was placed on Gamal Eid, a lawyer with the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, and days after health officials ordered the closure of El Nadeem, a renowned clinic for the rehabilitation of torture victims.
Hossam Bahgat has just been banned from travel. After Gamal Eid travel ban + Nadim Center closure order. Closing in.— Heba Morayef (@hebamorayef) February 23, 2016
The move to shutter the clinic that helps torture victims seems particularly perverse as it comes just as Egypt’s interior ministry is under pressure to explain the apparent torture and murder of an Italian labor researcher, Giulio Regeni, who was last seen being led away by security agents near Tahrir Square on the fifth anniversary of Egypt’s uprising.
The Nadeem center also documents cases of torture, and as the independent Cairene news site Mada Masr reported, activists recently drew attention to a report in its archive that showed that the “senior police officer in charge of the preliminary investigation into the murder of visiting Italian student Giulio Regeni has a prior conviction for torturing a man to death and forging a police report.”
Last month, an Egyptian poet, Omar Hazek, was also prevented from boarding a flight and barred from traveling to the Netherlands where he was to receive an award for free speech. Hazek, who had served more than a year in jail for taking part in a protest, was blocked even though he had received a pardon in September from President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the former army chief of staff who toppled Egypt’s first democratically elected president in a 2013 coup.
The crackdown on dissent has also been accompanied by a series of harsh and bizarre rulings by Egypt’s military and civilian courts. In recent days, the military admitted that it had sentenced a 4-year-old child to life in prison for murder by mistake, and an Egyptian novelist, Ahmed Naji, was taken into custody and ordered to spend two years in jail for including an erotic passage in a book excerpt published in a newspaper.
Bahgat told The Intercept that the space for any dissent or free expression was shrinking in Egypt, even if the case against the novelist “is not state driven but part of [an] atmosphere of fear.”
“The more the regime bleeds popularity,” Bahgat added, “the more they look for dissidents to scapegoat.”