An ex-Muslim secularist and human rights defender from Egypt has been denied permission to leave the country, even to attend his own wedding, and has been on hunger strike for four weeks. The apparent travel ban saw him detained at the airport despite there being no court order and no prior notice that he would be banned from travelling.
Ahmed Harkan (sometimes rendered: Ahmad Harqan) is one of a number of bloggers and activists in Egypt advocating secularism and a humanist worldview. Harkan has been active for several years, appearing on multiple TV talkshows in Egyptian and wider Arab media. He has been repeatedly exposed to reprisals and attacks.
As recorded in the Humanists International Freedom of Thought Report entry for Egypt:
In October 2014 Ahmad and Sally Harqan (Nada Mandour) were attacked in their home by a group of men. After fleeing the scene Ahmed and Sally (who was pregnant) arrived at a police station, only to be assaulted by the police and imprisoned overnight. Ahmed is an atheist and an activist. His friends and supporters told Humanists International that the arrest was linked to a complaint filed against him by several academics, in connection with his appearances on Egyptian and international media during which he discussed atheism and the right to express atheism.
Ahmed Harkan has continued to face harassment for his role in promoting non-religious views on TV and social media.
Last month Harkan tried to leave Egypt to marry his fiancée in Tunisia. However, he was detained at the airport by the security guards, despite never having been notified of any court order against him implementing a travel ban. According to Harkan’s website:
“I have been denied my right to travel 3 times in 3 years despite the fact that there is no judicial decision against me banning travel. In my entire life, I haven’t caused harm to anyone. All I wish for is to be able to travel to my fiancée in order to get married. I have been on a hunger strike since then. The only thing that will make me break it is to travel. I appeal to the free world to help me and to stand by my case”
Harkan was prevented from leaving the country and taken into custody. There he learned that a travel ban had allegedly been imposed on him since 2016. Previously, in June 2019 Harqan was stopped and banned from travel by the police at Cairo Airport when he was attempting to fly to Beirut in order to participate in the AlhuraTV talkshow hosted by Lebanese writer and feminist Joumana Haddad.
He began a hunger strike following the latest detention, starting on 30 October.
President of Humanists International, Andrew Copson, comments:
“The prevention of travel by secularist activists, or humanists who simply speak their mind well within the limits of lawful freedom of expression, is a heinous and arbitrary abuse of human rights. That the thoughts and ideas of people like Ahmed Harkan are demonized by the State, or falsely considered a threat to social order, is no excuse. We must be allowed freedom of thought and expression and we call on the United Nations to pressure Egypt into repealing the unofficial travel ban on Ahmad Harkan, and on Egypt to desist in using this deplorable tactic against legitimate thought and opinion.”
Harkan’s health continues to deteriorate, and he has been hospitalized twice. At the hospital, he reported being visited by the police who insulted him and told him: You must know why you are banned from travelling.
An awareness-raising petition against the ban and mistreatment of Ahmed Harkan can be found on change.org.
Protests were held last Saturday in solidarity with Ahmed Harkan infront of the Egyptian embassies in Berlin, Tunis and Paris.
Writing in the Foreword to the Freedom of Thought Report 2019 earlier this month, a fellow activist who had also made waves on Egyptian TV talking as an atheist, Mohamed Hisham Nofal, called on the international community to do more to pressure Egypt into opening up freedom of belief for the non-religious.