Ex-Egyptian Prisoners Struggle to Move On Due to Terrorist Lists | Features News

A scorching day in 2013 inside the Tanta prison in Egypt, and Emad was straining to hear news from her relatives. They were placed on one side of the hall with 50 other visitors. Emad was on the other side, more than a meter away, with 15 other prisoners.

Two sets of wire mesh separated them; police officers patrolling the intervening space, where Emad’s suspected informants were present. A confusion of voices ran through the space. It was impossible to get accurate information about the charges he was facing.

Instead, Emad relied on his fellow prisoners for snippets about the outside world, as authorities gave him little information on why he was arrested and incarcerated, other than what he knew about a widespread crackdown that was underway against him. anyone linked to the political opposition. .

Then, one day, a cellmate broke the shocking news: Emad had been added to Egypt’s national terror list, his bank accounts were frozen, his property was confiscated, and several of his factories closed.

Emad, whose name was changed to protect his identity, was eventually released from prison in late 2014 and then, he said, bribed his way out of the country.

Nine years after his arrest, Emad went from being a successful businessman to living in exile in Turkey with little money, unable to speak the language or support his family.

Emad is one of about 7,000 citizens who have been placed on Egypt’s national terror lists, according to data from the Geneva-based human rights organization Committee for Justice (CFJ). Among the names are a prominent football player, Mohamed Aboutrika, and a former presidential candidate, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, who was recently sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who was overthrown in Egypt’s 2013 military coup and died as a prisoner three years ago, was also on the terrorist list, and two of his sons say they are on it as well.

For those Egyptians on the lists, this has serious implications for their freedom, ability to earn a living, and has had a devastating effect on families who have been separated with no reunion in sight.

Since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came to power shortly after the 2013 coup, there has been a significant increase in the use of anti-terror legislation in Egypt, which has been criticized by human rights organizations as broad, imprecise and ambiguous. This legislation has become one of the most powerful tools used by the government to target dissidents, activists, politicians, business people and their companies, notes a CFJ report published last year.

The official line of the Egyptian government, which did not respond to requests for comment on this story, is that adding people to the list is aimed at restricting and cutting off the funding of terrorist organizations. However, many of the alleged offenders are often not even told they are on the list, let alone invited to appear in court or presented with evidence that they carried out the attacks in question.

“[It] allows the criminal court to issue its decision without obliging it to hear the accused or his defence,” CFJ’s Ahmed Mefreh told Al Jazeera. “It does not offer any guarantee of a fair trial that requires this inclusion, in violation of what is stipulated in different legal systems.”

Furthermore, the accused have only 60 days to appeal from the day their name is published in the Official Gazette of Egypt. “In practice, even if a judgment or decision is issued not to include or remove someone from the lists, the actions resulting from being listed on the terrorism list remain unchanged, especially for those outside Egypt,” Mefreh said.

Suffering in exile

In Turkey, Emad has struggled to make a life for himself. He cannot renew his passport or obtain official documents from the Egyptian embassy because they refuse to deal with him.

Back in Egypt, it’s the same story. His family has two cars that have been accumulating dust in the garage for years because they can’t renew their transit permits.

Although Emad’s wife is not on the terrorist list, every time she tries to leave Egypt to visit him, her passport is temporarily confiscated. This underscores the most painful implication on the list: the pain of being separated from loved ones. Then there is the unbearable weight of guilt. “The position my family is in is all because of me,” Emad said, several times.

Shortly after the 2011 revolution, Khalid, whose name was also changed, was elected deputy in Giza, a congested city southwest of the capital, Cairo. When the government collapsed two years later, Khalid went into hiding in another province.

As the crackdown intensified and arrests soared, he went to Upper Egypt and then crossed the border into Sudan, where he received a call from a friend. “Khalid, you have been added to the [terror] List. I saw your name in the Official Gazette.

Khalid was shocked. “I never imagined or expected this,” he said. “Having your name on this list is a great thing. I have no connection with terrorism and would never expect that.”

As an additional punitive measure, the government added Khalid’s brother and two cousins. “Fortunately, they are abroad. If they were in Egypt, they would have been arrested,” he told Al Jazeera.

When he was just 17 years old, one of Khalid’s sons was arrested and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Another has been placed on probation, meaning he must register weekly at the local police station. Upon signing the contract, political prisoners placed on parole are regularly held arbitrarily for several days, or worse still, tortured.

Khalid, who is now in Turkey, spends his time teaching the Quran. Like Emad, he hasn’t seen his wife, children or family in nearly 10 years. They don’t try to leave for fear of being arrested at the airport. Even though he now has Turkish nationality, Khalid is afraid to travel, especially to any country that has a good relationship with Egypt.

Khalid says he lived a modest life in Egypt, so the state couldn’t confiscate his savings or property because he didn’t have any.

However, Emad estimates that the Egyptian government received about $2 million from him.

While Emad and Khalid were once politically active, Egyptian businessmen with no ties to politics have also been added.

In one case, a prominent Egyptian businesswoman took her passport to the government administration building for renewal, but when she gave it to the civil servant, he wrote the Arabic letter qaf for qayma (list) and then informed her that the passport would not be returned. .

In another case, an e-commerce entrepreneur was told by a bank clerk that his card had been blocked, when he realized that his account had been frozen and he had been added to the list. Without the ability to make online payments for goods, his business collapsed.

“Now it’s not just the opposition in Egypt that is being targeted, but anyone who has a business like mine,” reflected Emad. There’s a pause when his voice cracks, and he struggles to get the words out. “I miss my family and my office… I miss my neighbors, the pyramids and the kind people of Egypt. These are the feelings of someone in exile.”

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