The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) demands the closure of the case of "spreading Shiism" and condemns the travel ban of Shiite journalist Haider Qandil
Haider Kandil, a journalist and member of the Shiite sect, told the EIPR's researchers that the Cairo airport authorities prevented him from traveling on the morning of Saturday, December 11th, seized his passport and ordered him to go to the National Security headquarters to retrieve it.
Qandil explained that he was surprised when a passport officer stopped him at the airport, after he obtained the exit stamp from Egypt, heading to Russia. The officer informed him that there are instructions from the National Security to prevent him from traveling and to withhold his passport, and that he must later request permission from the National Security Agency before traveling, stressing, however, that there is no judicial order of a travel ban.
Haider Qandil has been subject to weekly follow-up since August 2020, since he was released on bail, pending accusation with a group of Shiites of spreading Shiism and establishing a group in violation of the law. Qandil said that he must visit the second section of Tanta police department every week, but he stressed that there was no contact between him and National Security personnel throughout the follow-up period.
Security forces had arrested Qandil from his home on December 29th 2019, a date after which he disappeared until March 23rd 2020. Qandil told the EIPR's researchers that he was taken to the National Security headquarters in Tanta and interrogated about his affiliation with the Shiite sect, his beliefs and the way he practices rituals, the locations of Egyptian Shiite gatherings and rituals , and the reasons for his travel to Iran and Iraq. He replied that he traveled to visit Shiite holy sites. Qandil added that he remained handcuffed and blindfolded throughout his detention at the National Security headquarters.
On March 23rd 2020, he was brought before the State Security Prosecution, which charged him, along with other Egyptian Shiites, with contempt of religion, spreading Shiism, anti-state ideas, and establishing a group in violation of the law. Qandil said that the prosecution confronted him with elements of “evidence”, one of which was an article on an Iraqi Shiite website that was published anonymously - which Qandil denied being the author of - in addition to a file on the Shiites of the World that security forces found at his home during his arrest.
Qandil added that he was transferred to the second section of the Tanta police department after being brought before the Public Prosecution Office, where he spent a month in which he faced ill-treatment and denied blankets being brought to him, before he was transferred to Tanta General Prison.
Qandil reported that the Tanta Criminal Court sought the advice of the Islamic Research Academy of Al-Azhar on the case. The academy’s response was that the evidence in the case helps spread the Shiite doctrine. Later, the court ruled that it did not have jurisdiction and transferred the case to the Supreme State Security Court in Cairo.
On August 16th 2020, the Tanta Criminal Court, held in the Consultation Room, decided to release him on bail of 5,000 pounds and place him under weekly follow-up.
Qandil said that a National Security officer told him before his release that he would not be allowed to work as a journalist again. Indeed, one of the officials at the newspaper, in which he was working, told him that he was dismissed from work based on security instructions, and he was not allowed to obtain his personal belongings from the workplace.
The Qandil case is one of several cases in which Egyptian Shiites are being tried on charges of expressing their religious belief and circulating related books. They are accused of "establishing a group against the law" without evidence.
In June 2020, the State Security Misdemeanors Court in Mashtoul al-Suq, Sharkia Governorate, in Case No. 154 of 2019 sentenced Mustafa al-Ramli and Mahmoud Youssef to one year in prison on charges of promoting ideas belonging to the Shiite sect and founding a group in violation of the law. The arrest report stated that in their homes, the forces found books about the Shiite sect and a Turbah “prayer stone” used to prostrate on according to the Shiite sect. The national security investigation report accused the defendants of participation in founding a group in contravention of the provisions of the law to spread the Shiite doctrine. However, the defendants denied in the investigations that they had established any group, and confirmed that they had only met while in custody for this case.
In May 2019, the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Alaa Obeid, an Azharite teacher residing in Mansoura, to 15 years in prison and a fine of 500,000 pounds on charges of communicating with foreign parties and receiving money from them, establishing a website, and printing books that promote the Shiite sect, including a book written by the convict entitled "Virtues of Ahl al-Bayt in the Book and the Sunnah", according to the ruling's rationale.
In 2016, EIPR published an analytical report entitled “Forbidden Diversity in the State Religion: Religious Freedom for Shiite Egyptians as a Model.” In it, it recommended that the state should take urgent measures in the short term, and start a process of radical reform of official religious policies in order to guarantee freedom of religion and belief and religious diversity. The report included several incidents, including a travel ban on Shiite Egyptians traveling for the purpose of performing their religious rites or religious education. It also includes the facts of their detention for varying periods after their return.
The incidents of travel bans against other activists have been repeated due to their activities related to freedom of belief, including Ahmed Harkan, who identifies himself as a human rights activist, blogger and Egyptian atheist writer, who was banned from traveling several times on instructions from the National Security without a judicial order, before the Supreme Administrative Court accepted the appeal submitted by EIPR against the negative decision not to enable Harkan to travel and to cancel it on September 26th 2021.
EIPR calls for the closure of the case of "spreading Shiism" and stopping violations against Shiite Egyptians and other members of marginalized religious groups or activists interested in the religious field. It emphasizes the need to initiate urgent reforms to the policies governing the religious field, to accept the broadest form of religious diversity and to combat all forms of discrimination on the basis of religion.