Australian government requested to seek assurances from Egypt for Hazem Hamouda
Australian citizen, Hazem Hamouda, is asking the Australian government to seek assurances to ensure his safe travel home from Egypt. Mr Hamouda was held in an Egyptian prison without charge for over a year, until March 2019. Despite being released from Egypt’s notorious Tora Prison in Cairo over three weeks ago, Mr Hamouda has not yet been able to travel home to Australia.
Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Jen Robinson act for Mr Hamouda and his family and have been raising concern with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (“DFAT”) about the level of support he has been receiving to ensure Mr Hamouda can return home to Australia. On 20 February 2019, they filed urgent appeals with the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) and Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID), calling for information about Mr Hamouda’s whereabouts and for his immediate release. Mr Hamouda was later released from prison on 6 March 2019.
Soon after, however, Mr Hamouda was barred from leaving Egypt. He learned of this when he and his daughter, Saja, arrived at the airport in Cairo to board their fights. He was told he needed two documents: an ID card (which had been taken from him whilst he was in police custody) and a military exemption certificate because he had stayed in Egypt longer than 6 months. This was despite the fact the only reason for his extended stay in Egypt was the unlawful actions of the Egyptian authorities and his arbitrary and unjust detention in prison without charge.
During his time in unjust and unlawful detention in Egypt, Mr Hamouda had begun the process of renouncing his Egyptian citizenship in the hope it would encourage Australia to provide further support. In an international legal opinion for the Hamouda family, Ms Gallagher QC and Ms Robinson make clear that, as a matter of international law, Australia could have exercised diplomatic protection over him and taken steps to protect him because his predominant nationality is Australian. He need not renounce his Egyptian citizenship for Australia to act.
Peter Greste, who has added his voice in support of the Hamoudas, said in a recent media interview: “I'm also concerned that Hazem didn't seem to have the consular support that I think is really vital at this stage. I know that in our case, we realised that I wasn't free until I was completely out of Egyptian judicial control and that meant not just out of prison, not just even out of immigration, but away from Egyptian airspace. We had the ambassador with me all the way ... and I know that DFAT and the Foreign Minister were actively engaged through the whole process, and I think that's the lesson here, that Hazem needs that kind of support.”
Mr Hamouda has now obtained a replacement ID card and the requested military exemption certificate. He is safe with his daughter Saja in Cairo and they intend to leave Egypt in the coming days.
Ms Gallagher QC and Ms Robinson said, “Hazem and his family have endured a horrific ordeal over the past fourteen months. Hazem has now jumped through the additional bureaucratic hoops and we call on the Egyptian authorities to ensure he can finally leave Egypt safely and swiftly, and return home to Brisbane. We also call on the Australian Government to do all it can to protect and support its citizens, Hazem and Saja and their family. Australia can and should exercise diplomatic protection over Hazem, as an Australian citizen. At minimum, Australia should provide Hazem the same level of support that was provided to Peter Greste, a fellow Australian citizen. We want to ensure Hazem does not again suffer the distress of being refused the ability to leave the country.”
Hazem Hamouda said: "I am overwhelmed with emotions of thanks and sincere gratitude for all those who have helped my family and I go through these hard times. My release will be completed when I am reunited with my family back home in Brisbane."
Hazem’s daughter, Lamisse Hamouda, added on behalf of the family: “We’ve done everything within our power to make sure Dad is clear to come home. Now we need the government to step up and do their part too. All we want is for our dad to be safe, and back home.”
Ms Gallagher QC and Ms Robinson have asked the Australian government to notify the Egyptian government that Australia will exercise diplomatic protection, to request an assurance that Hazem be able to leave the country, and to ensure the Australian ambassador can accompany Hazem out of the country.
Hazem Hamouda’s ordeal began when he flew from his home in Brisbane to Cairo in January 2018, to join his children for a family holiday. Instead, he was arrested at the airport on arrival on 25 January 2018, and later taken to Tora Prison. He was wrongfully accused of sympathising with a terrorist group and spreading fake news, for alleged Facebook posts. His family have been campaigning ever since for his release, using the hashtag #BringHazemHome.
Ms Gallagher QC and Ms Robinson were consulted by Mr Hamouda’s family earlier this year regarding filing international complaints about his ongoing arbitrary detention. In February 2019 the Prosecutor-General of Egypt ordered his release. However, in extremely concerning developments he was not brought to the appointed police station for release and then disappeared, with no information about his whereabouts being provided to his family or his legal team. Grave concerns for his safety and security were raised with the Egyptian authorities, the Australian Government and the United Nations.
For days, Mr Hamouda’s family had an agonising wait to find out what had happened to him and whether he was safe and well. Mr Hamouda then located in prison, having been interrogated by national security authorities. He was then transferred to an alternative facility where his ordeal continued. He was held in a windowless cell under fluorescent light 24 hours a day, without any access to fresh air, with no facilities to keep or prepare food, and with very limited visitation despite him being entirely reliant on visitors for food. Again, his legal team and family were informed he would be released, but his release date was continually pushed back without any justification or explanation, and despite an order for his release having been made a fortnight earlier.
He was finally released on the morning of 6 March 2019. He and his daughter Saja Hamouda attempted to leave the country later that day but were refused travel. Since then, steps have been taken to obtain the documentation requested by the Egyptian authorities.