Egypt’s representative in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair refused to board a return flight to Egypt on Sunday after the fair ended.
Abdallah Assem, a 17-year-old student who was a member of one of the 10 Egyptian teams representing the country in the Intel Fair in the United States last week, cited fear of imprisonment upon his return to the country. Assem was arrested alongside a friend in the vicinity of Tahrir Square last month when he was accused of purposefully vandalising a car that belongs to a police officer.
He was initially prevented from travelling to attend the fair in light of the charges pressed against him before the Ministry of Interior lifted his travel ban.
“If I return to Egypt, my future will end in prison as I am threatened with arrest all the time,” Assem said in a video broadcast on the Qatari-based Al-Jazeera news network. “If I get jailed in Egypt, I will have no rights. I will be treated inhumanely.”
Education Minister Mahmoud Abou El-Nasr told private-owned CBC channel on Sunday that the academic supervisors travelling with Assem took away his passport and handed it to the Egyptian Embassy in the US, filing a report against Assem for refusing to return.
Waleed Awad, Assem’s friend who was arrested with him, claimed on his Facebook account that the academic supervisors accused Assem of hiding his passport in order to not return to Egypt, claiming that the supervisors wanted to frame Assem for the crime of illegal immigration.
Abou El-Nasr denied that Assem was “humiliated” in jail prior to his travel to the US.
“Mistakes happen during protests,” Abou El-Nasr said, in reference to Assem’s allegedly random arrest. “But everyone took Assem’s side and helped him travel and attend the science fair. Where is the humiliation in that?”
The Assiut Prosecution had ordered Assem’s detention for 15 days right after his arrest in late April. An Assiut judge nevertheless released the student from detention one week later when his family appealed the decision. He was released on an EGP 5,000 bail.
Assem was held at the Cairo International Airport last week, where he was scheduled to catch a flight to the US, until he missed his flight, he said on his personal Facebook account. He added he was told by Homeland Security officials that he was on a travel-ban list.
The Ministry of Interior reversed Assem’s travel ban later on the same day. He was able to fly to the US the next morning.
Fatma Serag, lawyer at the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression following up on Assem’s case, said Assem and his friends were arrested for “jokingly” flashing the Rabaa sign. Awad said they were arrested from a café near Tahrir Square. Awad claimed, in a Facebook post, that the two were arrested by Homeland Security.