Egyptian authorities have been systematically barring dozens of dissidents and activists living abroad from accessing or extending their identity documents in order to pressure them to return to Egypt, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has revealed.
In a report released Mondaythe New York-based rights group said authorities’ refusal to issue birth certificates or renew essential documents, including passports and identity cards, to dissidents abroad was intended to pressure them to “return to near-certain persecution in Egypt”.
HRW said people’s inability to access these documents was a violation of their basic rights, as it undermined their ability to legally travel, live, work and access health care and education.
“The administration of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has outdone dissidents abroad by depriving them of vital identity documents,” said Adam Coogle, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at HRW.
“Having made every effort to quell domestic opposition and public discord through mass arrests, unfair trials and rampant torture in detention, the government is stepping up its efforts to punish those abroad and silence,” he added.
Since former President Mohamed Morsi was overthrown in a July 2013 coup, el-Sisi has overseen a massive crackdown on dissent in the country. The ruthless crackdown has driven tens of thousands of Egyptian dissidents to live in exile, the report said.
The report is based on interviews with 26 Egyptian dissidents, journalists and lawyers living in Europe, Asia and Africa and on documents including written correspondence, passports and official forms related to some of their cases.
None of those interviewed received official written refusals for their requests, but some were told by officials to return to Egypt to resolve their issues “with security services,” despite the majority having no pending criminal cases against them, the report said. .
The Egyptian authorities did not respond to a request for comment.
Additional challenges in Turkey
According to the report, dissidents in Turkey have faced more challenges because the Egyptian consulate in Istanbul “has effectively closed its doors to Egyptians since about 2018,” with interviewees saying it only accepts requests through Facebook.
After years of political animosity, Cairo and Ankara have moved closer in recent years, leaving a large group of Egyptian dissidents in Turkey feeling unsafe.
“I am a toy in a political league,” said a 29-year-old man living in Turkey. He said Egyptian security authorities arrested and tortured him twice before he left in July 2016 and later failed to renew his passport.
Mona T, a 32-year-old woman who left Egypt for Turkey with her son and husband in August 2013, tried to apply for a new passport at the Egyptian consulate in Istanbul in 2019 after hers was stolen.
After 18 months, a consulate official told her that security services in Egypt wanted her to return to Egypt, the report said. She has since been unable to renew her residence permit in Turkey and has faced multiple issues, including potential deportation and losing access to her husband’s health insurance despite being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.
Mohamed Mohey, a TV news presenter who left Egypt after the 2013 Rabaa massacre, when government forces killed at least 1,000 anti-government protesters, says he has been unable to renew his passport at the Egyptian consulate in Istanbul since 2016.
“Officials eventually told him that security services blocked his applications and that he should return to Egypt,” the report said.
He struggles with financial transactions and has been unable to see his seven-year-old daughter, who was banned from entering Turkey for five years in 2020 for overstaying her visa.
According to human rights groups, Egyptian authorities have also targeted dozens of relatives of dissidents in Egypt through arrests, searches, interrogations and travel bans.
In 2019, the then Minister of Emigration and Egyptian Emigrant Affairs, Nabila Makram, told a group of Egyptians in Canada, “Anyone (critics abroad) who says anything about our country will be cut to pieces.”