Abdurrahman Ezz is a writer, video journalist and photographer. He was a presenter and news reporter in Egypt, where he was active in the 6th of April youth movement. He is currently studying for a master’s degree in journalism at Edinburgh Napier university. The charges against him arising from the incident described here were dropped in June 2019.
On Thursday 13/12/2018 I was on my way to Paris from Edinburgh Airport to carry out some independent film and photography work for my personal blogs as well as freelance work for some outlets like Al Jazeera Blogs, Ida2at and Arabic 21. I had been following events in France closely and I was very keen on visiting and doing some journalistic reporting on the protests.
After a long delay of the flight departure, at around 3pm in front of Gate 18 after the easyJet agent checked my ticket and travel document and let me to go to the plane, I was stopped by a plain clothes police officer who asked me some questions about my plans and where I was going. Some of the questions he asked me were: “Where are you going to? Where do you live in Edinburgh? Why are you travelling to Paris? Who are you planning on meeting in Paris? How long do you plan on staying there and when do you plan to be back in Edinburgh?”
After I answered all of his questions, he asked me to step to one side to continue, about three steps away from the Gate 18. I asked him: “Did I do something wrong?”.
“It’s no problem,” replied the officer, leading me aside and gesturing towards another woman.
This female officer was the one who stopped me the previous year at Edinburgh Airport under the Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 when I came back from my journey to Istanbul to see my brother as I can’t see him in my country Egypt because I’m a political refugee here.
The male officer then said:
“Myself and my colleague just have some questions, come to this room.”
Violation of privacy
Once we went inside the room, he went on to inform me that the interview would be held under the Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Inside the room the man and the woman asked me to give them my mobile phone, iPad, Mac Pro laptop, cameras and all my electronic devices. They asked me to reveal the passwords for all my devices. I told them this is a violation of my privacy because I’m a journalist and I have some confidential materials from my work as a journalist and some personal information on sources and contacts which are very sensitive, and I don’t wish to disclose them to anyone to see without my consent. They refused that and threatened that if I didn’t do as they ask, it will be considered as an offence, a crime against the law which they said allows them to take everything I have and examine it without my consent, even if they had to use force.
Through the interrogation they told me that they would do their best to allow me to catch my flight to France but after a while they told me I was going to miss my flight because they needed to ask me additional questions which would take a longer time.
I asked them to call my wife and my young daughter because they were expecting me to call them on my arrival. They refused. I asked them to call my solicitor or a friend in Paris who was waiting for me at the airport, but they again refused. I was upset and worried and didn’t understand why they were refusing all requests. I was afraid since I was stopped last year in Berlin Airport after Egyptian military coup’s authorities asked them to forcibly deport me to Egypt.
They continued to ask me questions during which time I asked several times to be allowed to go the toilet. After repeated refusals they finally agreed. An older man and the man who stopped me in the first place walked with me towards the public toilet.
They put my face down on the toilet floor
After I had finished and was on my way back to the same room I asked again to call my wife or solicitor but they refused and asked me to keep silent. I refused to keep silent and continued asking them why they refused to allow me to call any one. I asked them why they were doing this and that I was a journalist and not a criminal or terrorist.
They tried again to shut me up. At this point in the main hall near Gate 18, they started holding me tight and pulled me into the toilet area and detained me in the disabled toilet. I was in great pain in my hands, arms, head, chest and even my legs. They forcibly put my face down on the toilet floor and then they handcuffed my wrists behind my back.
The first man then left and closed the door of the disabled toilet behind him, leaving me with the older police officer who forced my head down and pulled my arms up causing me great pain. I was screaming in pain. The police officer pulled hard on the skin of my body and punched me while I was trying to keep my arms in a position that reduced the pain.
The first police officer came back and left several times before he came finally returned and charged me with “breach of the peace”. I told him I didn’t do anything wrong, I have not breached any peace. I was still asking to call my wife and lawyer to get me out from this place. I was feeling terrible and couldn’t even breath properly.
After some time – I’m not sure how long it lasted - they escorted me out of the airport building, put me into a car and then took me to Livingston police station without all my stuff, my bag including everything (MacBook, camera, money, wallet, memory cards, mobile phone , iPad etc ).
I was feeling dizzy and nauseous when I arrived there and I fainted.
I told an officer there what had happened and that I had been assaulted by one the officers who arrested me. A nurse come and checked me. I asked to see a doctor, but this request was refused and I was told a doctor could not be available in less than six hours. I asked the nurse for some painkillers and cream to treat the pain in my chest and hands but she refused.
I showed her the dark red bruises on my body especially in my chest, stomach and my arms, which she said she will record.
I was locked in a cell. Then they took me from the cell to be fingerprinted and photographed.
I am not sure how much time passed before I was released from custody the following morning. Two police officers (man and woman) accompanied me in a police car to the road in front of my home in Leith. My bag and contents were returned minus my laptop, mobile phone and memory card which contained work-related materials, including professional contacts which I now cannot access.
My watch was broken, and other contents of the bag was damaged. My Nikon D90 Camera was damaged as well. I complained to the two officers who took me back home about the damaged and missed items but was told it was not the concern of the officers since they were only responsible for escorting me home; they undertook however to relay my concerns to their colleagues.
A week later they returned my MacBook and mobile phone at Gayfield Square police station in Edinburgh after I got a phone call from the police at Edinburgh airport asking me to meet them there to be under CCTV while they give me that stuff, but they didn’t give me back the memory card. I asked about it but they said that they don’t know anything about it.
Now I feel anxious about how, where and by whom the data is being stored, shared and interpreted.
I was feeling not very well psychologically and physically after that so I went to the emergency department at the Royal Infirmary and they give me some medicine - “co-codamol” tablets - and exercises to do to reduce my chest pain. And then I suffered from continuous unbearable pain on my back, so I went to the GP who referred me to a specialist, and after examination and CT scan I have discovered that my back was injured badly with chronic disc bulge and other problems which are sadly still worsening day by day and disrupt me from performing my daily tasks as I dids before I was detained and assaulted by police at Edinburgh airport.
I felt that I was targeted only because I was a brown Muslim with beard - nobody else was stopped on a trip with perhaps more than 150 passengers, mostly white Europeans. I was treated as a criminal even though I did not commit any crime.
I consider Scotland and UK to be my country so I want it to be safe. I’m living here with my family, my wife, my daughter and my baby son, but this security will not be achieved by violating my and others human rights.
I’m a journalist and I will not stop doing my job
I left my country because of dictatorship and human rights violations and unfortunately this is how I felt again when I was stopped at Edinburgh airport. My rights have been violated a second time and I have been assaulted by the police.
I love the Scottish people and I’m sure they cannot agree to those practices and laws that violate minimum and basic human rights. This inhuman law should repealed immediately.
I’m a journalist and I will not stop doing my job as journalist whatever happens and whoever intends to stop me from doing it.
All photographs © Abdurrahman Ezz
More about Schedule 7 Stop and Question Powers
Note from SACC
Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 allows police to question anyone entering or leaving the UK in order to determine whether they are a terrorist. Police do not not need to have any grounds for suspicion in order to question a person. They can detain people for up to 6 hours for questioning. Detainees have no right to silence, must surrender their phones, computers and passwords, provide fingerprints and DNA on request, and may be strip searched. Failure to comply is a terrorism offence.
On 20 August 2019, Cage released a report on Schedule 7 evidencing Islamphobia at UK borders. It can be downloaded here, where you will also find a Know Your Rights factsheet.
Abdurrahman Ezz spoke at the Glasgow launch of the report on 24 August 2019.