Swedish freelance journalist and workers’ rights advocate Per Bjorklund is currently languishing in a holding cell at Cairo Airport. In the latest sign of tighter restrictions on Egyptian and foreign activists entering and leaving the country, Bjorklund was detained upon arrival from Prague Tuesday morning and told he was on a list of persons barred from entering the country.
According to Swedish Embassy in Cairo Counselor Joakim Vaverka, Bjorklund has been declared a persona non grata by the Egyptian government and, “has to leave the country.”
Veverka told Al-Masry Al-Youm English Edition that the embassy is “following closely [the situation] and is in contact with the Egyptian authorities.”
Bjorklund said that he was told his name was “on the computer” at customs and that he would not be allowed to enter the country he has lived and worked for three years.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Bjorklund remains in airport security custody and it is unclear exactly when he will be deported. The next flight to Prague – he flew in on Czech airlines – is not scheduled until Thursday October 1.
Vaverka did not know when or what airline he would be departing Egypt on.
The situation is similar to that of American citizen Travis Randall, who was detained for nearly 12 hours earlier this month before being barred from entering Egypt and sent back to London. At the time, Randall was also told that his name was on a special list.
Both Randall and Bjorkland attended a pro-Gaza protest march in February, Randall as an active participant and Bjorkland as a journalist. Egyptian-German activist Philip Rizk, who helped organize the protest, was detained afterward for four days.
"I am in some room at the airport, where there are other people, and I am waiting an explanation from the police," Bjorklund told Al-Masry Al-Youm English Edition early Tuesday morning shortly after his detention. Eventually, without explanation, he was told he would be returned to Prague on the next available flight.
Bjorklund has been one of the most active foreign journalists in covering the current Egyptian strike wave and human rights abuses, stringing for a number of Swedish publications as well as activist websites like the Electronic Intifada. He reported from Mahalla during the 2008 uprising that left three people dead, scores injured and hundreds arrested.
According to the Swede’s blog, Egypt and beyond, he says that he is "a freelance journalist currently based in Cairo. Covering the daily struggles for another Egypt and another Middle East, that are too often made invisible in the narratives of mainstream media."
His most recent post, ‘Historic verdict’ in favor of Tanta labor leaders, shows his commitment to covering the ongoing workers’ strikes that have erupted across Egypt in recent years.
The journalist has not been in touch with the outside world since 5 a.m., when his phone was turned off and possibly confiscated.
Additional reporting by Hossam el-Hamalawy.