Egyptian authorities have systematically denied scores of dissidents and activists living abroad from accessing or renewing their identity documents, to pressure them into returning to Egypt, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has revealed.
In a report released on Monday, the New York-based rights group said the refusal of authorities to provide birth certificates or renew essential documents, including passports and ID 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 travel, live, work legally, and access healthcare and education.
“The government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been turning the screws on dissidents abroad by depriving them of essential identity documents,” said Adam Coogle, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at HRW.
“After sparing no effort to crush domestic opposition and public dissent through mass arrests, unfair trials, and rampant torture in detention, the government is ramping up efforts to punish and silence those abroad,” he added.
Since former President Mohamed Morsi was removed in a coup in July 2013, el-Sisi has overseen a massive crackdown on dissent in the country. The brutal crackdown has pushed tens of thousands of Egyptian dissidents to live in exile, said the report.
The report is based on interviews with 26 Egyptian dissidents, journalists, and lawyers living in Europe, Asia, and Africa and on documents including written correspondences, passports, and official forms relating to some of their cases.
None of the people interviewed received official written rejections for their requests, but some were told by officials to return to Egypt to solve their problems “with security agencies”, despite the majority having no pending criminal cases against them, said the report.
The Egyptian authorities have not responded 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 “effectively closed its doors to Egyptians since around 2018”, with interviewees saying it only accepts requests via Facebook.
Following 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’m a toy in a political competition,” said a 29-year-old man who lives in Turkey. He said Egyptian security authorities arrested and tortured him twice before he left in July 2016 and was later unable 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 agencies in Egypt wanted her to return to Egypt, said the report. She has since been unable to renew her residence permit in Turkey and has been facing multiple struggles, including possible deportation and losing access to her husband’s health insurance plan despite being diagnosed with an autoimmune condition.
Mohamed Mohey, a television news anchor who left Egypt following 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 agencies blocked his applications and that he must go back to Egypt,” said the report.
He has been struggling 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 rights groups, Egyptian authorities have also targeted dozens of dissidents’ relatives in Egypt through arrests, house raids, interrogations and travel bans.
In 2019, the then-minister of emigration and Egyptian expatriate affairs, Nabila Makram, told a group of Egyptians in Canada: “Anyone [critics abroad] who says a word about our country will be sliced up.”