At 4pm on Thursday 14 December Egyptian journalist AbdulRahman Ezz was prevented from boarding his flight to France from Edinburgh Airport where he intended to cover the yellow vest demonstrations in Paris.
Waiting for him at the door of the plane was a policeman wearing civilian uniform who asked for a brief word before he continued to board. “Have I done something wrong?” he asked. Ezz had been through a similar ordeal last year when he was detained on a flight from Istanbul for six hours. His camera, phone and computer were confiscated and not returned to him for a week.
“It’s no problem,” replied the policeman, leading him aside and gesturing towards another woman. “Myself and my colleague just have some questions, come to this room.” He went on to inform Ezz that the interview would be held under the Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act Law 2000, which has been described by advocacy group Liberty as a broad and intrusive power to stop individuals at airports without even suspecting the person has been involved in terrorism.
“Powers like this are ripe for overuse and abuse,” they state on their website. “They are invariably used in discriminatory fashion, with stops based on stereotype rather than genuine suspicion.”
Once inside the room it became clear that Ezz would not be arriving in Paris in two hours. “I will miss my flight,” he told the policeman. He asked if he could call his wife, who was expecting a phone call from him when he landed, and his colleague at Al Jazeera Arabic who would receive him at Charles de Gaulle. All of his requests were turned down.
Ezz says he was asked by the policeman to remain silent, but he wanted answers: Why couldn’t he contact his family? Why had he been detained? Was it because of his beard, the colour of his skin, or his religion? He was told again to remain quiet and when he did not was taken out of the room and forced aggressively into a public, disabled toilet in the corridor. The officer holding him shut the door, held his arms behind his back and informed Ezz that this was procedure.
“Does the law allow you to keep me in here?” he asked the officer, who in response began to punch him in the stomach. The policemen standing outside came inside the toilet and asked him to be quiet, told him he was breaching the peace and scaring the women and children outside. “You are violating my human rights,” replied Ezz and asked again to call his wife and a lawyer. His request was refused.
The officers began to talk amongst themselves again, handcuffed him from behind, took him outside the airport where he was bundled into a police car and taken to the station.
Inside the cell Ezz asked a nurse to see the doctor – he was not allowed access to a surgeon until he had been held for six hours, she informed him. He asked instead for cream and paracetamol to help with the bruising from where he had been held and punched but she told him she was not authorised on the basis that she didn’t know when he was going to be released.
When he was finally let go in the early hours of this morning Ezz was told he would face trial in January for breach of peace. His camera was returned to him with the lens removed; his mobile phone and computer are being held by the police.
In response to requests for comment, Edinburgh police media department sent MEMO this statement: “Police in Edinburgh arrested and charged a 31-year-old man in connection with a breach of the peace at Edinburgh Airport on Thursday 13 December. A report has been submitted to the Procurator Fiscal.”
MEMO requested that police comment on Ezz’s claims that he was beaten at the airport, however no response was received at the time of publication.
Ezz’s upcoming trial casts a long shadow over his status here in the UK. As a political refugee from Egypt he has leave to remain for the next five years until he can get his residence but he’s worried the government will use last night’s arrest against him and prevent him from getting his nationality.
Back in Egypt Ezz was a prominent journalist working as a presenter for 25TV, which was shut down after the 2013 coup, and as a correspondent for the Muslim Brotherhood leaning Masr25, though like many of its employees he was not actually affiliated with the group.
Before Ezz made the final decision to leave Egypt, ten of his friends were killed by authorities including Rasad cameraman Mousab El-Shami, freelance photojournalist Ahmed Gawab and Gulf News reporter Habib Abdul Aziz. Ezz went into hiding and authorities raided his home and destroyed his possessions. “I didn’t know if I would be detained or killed,” he tells me.
Ezz became a wanted man, his photo was circulated on TV and he moved from home to home to escape his impending fate. He finally left with his wife and daughter, who had just been born, and went to several countries before finally applying for asylum in the UK. Back in Egypt he was accused in absentia in the same case as ousted president Mohammed Morsi, of being involved in violent demonstrations, and of the more illusive charge of “demonstrating his power”.
Ezz’s wife Sawsan has not seen her parents since they left the country with their daughter who is now four years old and only communicates with her grandparents via social media. To make matters worse last night, when Ezz was being held in a cell, his wife’s father passed away.
In August last year one of Ezz’s Facebook posts was widely shared after German authorities detained him when he arrived at Berlin’s Schoenfeld Airport. The family found out he had been arrested under an Interpol arrest warrant issued from Cairo.
Earlier that year Egypt renewed requests to Interpol to extradite 400 people who have been cast as terrorists by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain. The Islamic scholar Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, Al Jazeera news presenter Ahmed Mansour and former spokesperson for the Ministry of Health Yahya Mousa were also on the list.
After four days and an admission by German authorities that the Egyptian ambassador had failed to provide evidence to support the allegations, Ezz was released. His family hope that human rights supporters across the world come together to support his fight for justice this time around.
“I hope that journalists and human rights organisations will support his release, condemn this racism and torture and condemn this violation of his right to travel,” said Sawsan Ali in a Facebook post. “When we came here it was to apply for protection and to escape a military regime in Egypt that is arresting and killing journalists.”
This is a phenomenon that has only worsened over time. This week, a prison census released by the Committee to Protect Journalists, revealed that Egypt is the third worst jailer of journalists worldwide.
When he is not working as a reporter Ezz spends his time giving talks to parliament about teaching homeless people how to use social media; he has turned his attention to a masters in journalism and applied for ESOL courses to improve his English. As he awaits his upcoming court date in January, Ezz will continue doing what he has been doing for the last few years since he left Egypt: trying to rebuild his life.
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