United States Revised Travel Ban Challenged in Federal Court

By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

 

WASHINGTON D.C., United States — On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang heard two hours of arguments challenging and supporting President Trump’s revised executive order banning travel from six Muslim-majority countries.  The revised order will suspend the U.S. refugee program for 120 days, prohibit the issuance of visas to those from Yemen, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Iran for 90 days, and decrease the number of refugees allowed to enter the U.S. in 2017 from 110,00 to 50,000.

Attorneys for the ACLU, National Immigration Law Center and members of the International Refugee Assistance Project speak outside of the U.S. District Court in Maryland court on Wednesday (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian)

Refugee rights organizations brought suit in federal court in Maryland claiming that the revised travel ban illegally targets a religious group.  Among others, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) asked Chuang to halt the order entirely, and argued that it represents a “pretext to discriminate against Muslims.”  Justin Cox, lawyer for the National Immigration Law Center, told Chuang that those affected feel the order targets Islam and condemns their religion.

The U.S. government responded to the claims made by refugee groups by saying that all references to religion have been eliminated from the revised order.  The government encouraged Chuang to focus on the exact wording of the order, and urged that the words indicate the ban is aimed at preventing terrorism.

The government also argues that people from the countries targeted by the travel ban “warrant additional scrutiny in connection with [the] immigration policies because the conditions in these countries present heightened threats.”  However, analysts at the Department of Homeland Security have indicated that citizenship is an “unlikely indicator” of ties to terrorism.

The hearing concluded without a ruling.  Chuang told court attendees that he “appreciated[d] everyone’s advocacy” and will issue a ruling as soon as possible.  According to ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt, Chuang pressed both the advocacy groups and the government about their respective claims.  Chuang asked the government why he should not consider all of President Trump’s comments regarding Muslim immigration, and asked the refugee rights groups whether President Trump is forbidden from limiting immigration from anywhere in the world just because of comments he made during his campaign.  Gelernt also said that Chuang asked whether a nationwide ban or a limited halt would be the appropriate remedy.

Hawaii’s challenge to the revised executive order will soon be heard in federal court, and Washington is also requesting a hearing in federal court to challenge the ban.

 

For more information, please see:

The Guardian — Hawaii Judge to Issue Ruling on Revised Trump Travel Ban Before it Takes Effect — 15 March 2017

Independent — Donald Trump’s Revised ‘Muslim Travel Ban’ Under Scrutiny by US Federal Courts Day Before Introduction — 15 March 2017

USA Today — Clock Ticks as Trump’s Revised Travel Ban Faces Multiple Court Challenges — 15 March 2017

The Washington Post — Federal Judge in Hawaii Freezes President Trump’s New Executive Order — 15 March 2017

Egyptian Human Rights Activist Banned from Travel

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt — On Wednesday, November 23rd, a prominent Egyptian human rights activist was banned from leaving the country as she attempted to board a plane.

Director of the El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation Victims of Violence subjected to travel ban due to alleged involvement in Egypt’s ongoing foreign funding case (Photo courtesy of Financial Times)

Ms. Aida Seif Al-Dawla, Director of the El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation Victims of Violence, was attempting to board a flight before she was stopped by Egyptian authorities. A statement released by the Center indicated that she was traveling to Tunisia to attend a conference bringing together NGOs working on rehabilitating victims of violence in North Africa.

An airport security official stated that the travel ban was implemented because of Ms. Al-Dawla’s involvement in the “ongoing trial implicating the majority of the most active human rights groups in Egypt.” Ms. Al-Dawla issued a statement in which she indicated that the travel ban is aimed at “eradicating the rights movement” in an attempt to cover up the government’s systematically committed violations. Her statement further indicated that the government’s attempt to “prevent individuals who dedicated their efforts to support and alleviate the pain” of violence victims “will not work.” Egyptian human rights activists stated that the travel bans are “part of the authorities’ attempts to silence criticism from civil society groups.”

The Egyptian government had attempted to shut down the Center earlier this year. In February, the Health Ministry had threatened to close the Center due to “violations,” which included “shifting its focus from operating as a medical facility to working in human rights and advocacy.” The threat had attracted local and international criticism and outcries from rights groups. In early November, Egypt’s Central Bank had ordered the freezing of the El Nadeem Center’s bank account. The Bank had lifted the freeze shortly thereafter when the Center documented that it does not fall under the authority of the Social Solidarity Ministry.

Ms. Al-Dawla is one of many human rights activists who have been banned from travel for their involvement in the country’s pending foreign funding case. Earlier this week, the Egyptian legislature also ordered issued travel bans for Ms. Azza Soliman, lawyer and head of the Center for Egyptian Women Legal Assistance, and Mr. Ahmed Ragheb, lawyer and Director of the National Community for Human Rights and Law. Both were on their way to attend international conferences, and were informed that the ban was the result of a judicial order, issued without their knowledge, regarding the case involving illegal foreign funding of NGOs.

For more information, please see:

Ahram Online—Egyptian activist Aida Seif El-Dawla banned from travel: Nadeem Centre—23 November 2016

All Africa—Egypt: El Nadeem Center Director Aida Seif El Dawla Banned From Travel—23 November 2016

New York Times—A Top Egyptian Human Rights Activist Banned From Travel—23 November 2016

Financial Times—Egypt imposes travel bans on human rights activists—23 November 2016

 

Bahrain Government Imposes Travel Ban on Wife and Child of Human Rights Activist

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

MANAMA, Bahrain — The wife and infant son of a London-based human rights activist were prevented from departing Bahrain, and detained and questioned for several hours.

Human rights activists’ wife and son were subjected to a travel ban following protests in London (Photo courtesy of The Guardian)

Bahraini immigration officers prevented Mrs. Duaa Alwadaei and her 19-month-old son from boarding a flight to London. Mrs. Alwadaei’s husband, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, who is the Director of Advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, was arrested hours before her travel ban for protesting a visit by the king of Bahrain in London.

Mr. Alwadaei claimed that his wife was subjected to a seven-hour interrogation, during which a senior official told her that she was being subjected to a “travel ban” because of his work. He alleged that Bahraini police questioned his spouse on his appearance at the protest, his organization, and her life in London. He stated that the officials told his wife they are “coming after my family, asked her about my brothers, sister and parents.” He claimed that his wife’s interrogator threatened to charge her with assaulting a police officer, which carries a prison sentence of three years, if she spoke out about her treatment. He further alleged that his wife was left “terrified” after being dragged across the airport floor, and that she was beaten by two female police officers when she refused to accompany them into custody.

In response, the Bahraini embassy in London released a statement which indicated that Mrs. Alwadaei was “briefly detained for questioning, searched and released.” The embassy further noted that “at no time was she abused or mistreated by authorities.” The Bahrain government noted that Mrs. Alwadaei had been released after her questioning “to make her onward destination.”

Bahrain has faced international criticism over its human rights crackdown which has led to the arrest of opposition figures, the stripping of citizenship, and the dissolution of the main opposition party. The country is now being censured by human rights groups for imposing travel bans and arresting its opponents. A researcher for the Human Rights Watch stated that the Bahraini authorities’ act was a “contemptible and cowardly attempt” to take vengeance against the family of a “prominent U.K.-based Bahraini exile and activist.” A director of the human rights group, Reprieve, stated that the organization is “seriously concerned” about the country’s retaliations against Mr. Alwadaei’s family for his peaceful protest in the U.K. The director further noted that although Bahrain may have banned freedom of expression, the U.K. government could not permit Bahrain to punish individuals who demonstrate in the U.K. against human rights abuses such as torture. She called upon the Bahraini government to allow Mrs. Alwadaei and their son to return to their home in London.

Mr. Alwadaei is a “fierce critic” of the Bahrain government and has addressed dozens of events in the U.K., U.S. and Europe. He protests the government of Bahrain on a regular basis since he was imprisoned and tortured for his role in Bahrain’s 2011 pro-democracy protests. In 2015, he was stripped of his Bahraini citizenship after claiming asylum in the U.K. in 2012.

For more information, please see:

Middle East Eye—Wife and baby of Bahraini rights activist on ‘travel ban’ after London protest—30 October 2016

Reuters—Bahrain blocks exit of activist’s wife: rights group—30 October 2016

The Guardian—Bahrain prevents family of dissident from flying to London to join him—29 October 2016

Daily Mail—Family of activist who jumped on Bahrain king’s car targeted—29 October 2016