CAIRO: Former publisher of Al-Masry Al-Youm and human rights activist Hisham Kassem was allegedly prevented from traveling to attend a Beirut conference on press freedom in the Arab world, according to a statement issued by the Paris-based World Association of Newspapers (WAN). Several delegates were reportedly confronted with similar travel restrictions including participants from Libya, Qatar, and Syria.
The Second Arab Free Press Forum was co-organized by WAN and the Lebanese independent daily An-Nahar newspaper and was attended by members of the independent press and media from across the Arab world.
Passports have not be renewed, previously acceptable travel documents have been disputed at the last moment, and the airlines have prevented passengers from boarding. It is impossible to escape the conclusion that the authorities in different countries are adopting a common strategy to use and abuse official procedures to obstruct events such as ours, stated forum participants.
In the case of Kassem, the reasons for his alleged travel ban still remain obscure, even to Kassem himself.
It s funny. I don t know what to say. I have never had problems obtaining a visa to Lebanon before. It s the first time this sort of thing happens to me, he told Daily News Egypt in a telephone interview.
Kassem, who was scheduled to moderate a session on the role of internet bloggers in the Arab media, says that An-Nahar newspaper was in charge of obtaining the travel permit on his behalf.
Instead of a proper visa document, Kassem received a government-issued list by email with the names of Egyptian delegates allowed to travel to Lebanon to attend the conference.
Once at the airport, however, Kassem was told that the list was not a proper visa document and was denied from boarding his flight.
The station manager told me that the paper I had was not good enough for travel. He asked me to produce $2,000 in cash, continued Kassem.
Since the majority of Egyptian ATMs do not allow large withdrawals, Kassem attempted to use his credit cards as proof, which he said was not accepted by the airline representative.
While Kassem did not make it to Beirut, a number of conference participants whose names were on the very same list were allowed to travel without showing “cash proof, including blogger and activist Wael Abbas.
I was on the exact same list. I was told that I would be able to board the plane with this document and receive the actual visa at the airport in Beirut. I never had to show anyone any money. I just told them that I possessed that amount and I was let through, Abbas told Daily News Egypt.
WAN maintains that it will issue a more detailed report on the incident along with other press freedom agencies that will call on “specific agencies including embassies and airlines to respect international conventions and standards.