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Cage director banned from entering Switzerland to address meeting at UN

Muhammad Rabbani held overnight after being stopped at Geneva Airport in latest incident which he says is a consequence of France adding his name to a European no-entry database
Earlier this year, Rabbani accused France of placing him on a European no-entry list after he was banned from entering Poland to speak at a conference (AFP)

Border authorities in Switzerland have stopped the director of a UK-based human rights group from entering the country to address a meeting at the United Nations office in Geneva "after a request from France".

Posting on social media on Wednesday, Muhammad Rabbani, the managing director of Cage International, said he had been detained by border police on his arrival at Geneva Airport where he had travelled to attend a conference organised by the Baku Initiative, an NGO that aims to "support the fight against colonialism and neocolonialism".

Speaking to Middle East Eye, Rabbani said he had been stopped and detained despite his lawyers confirming with Swiss authorities beforehand that he was not barred from visiting Switzerland.

"When I spoke with the authorities here, they said that I was stopped from entering Geneva at the request of France," said Rabbani, who earlier this year was also stopped from entering France and Poland because of his apparent inclusion on a no-entry list covering many European countries.

“Human rights defenders must be allowed to work without state interference. It's fundamental.

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“How is it right that state structures are allowed to prevent members of civil society from engaging in vital discourse at international conferences?" he added.

The Swiss border police did not respond to requests for comment from Middle East Eye about why they had detained Rabbani. 

In later posts on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, Rabbani said he had been told after 12 hours that he would not be allowed into Switzerland.

After 18 hours, he said he had been transferred in a police van to a "secure facility" where he spent the night. On Thursday morning, Rabbani said he had arrived back in the UK.

In October, border officers at Warsaw Chopin Airport told Rabbani that he could not enter Poland because his name appeared on the Schengen Information System (SIS), a European no-entry list. Switzerland is a signatory to the SIS despite not being an EU member. 

Rabbani accused the French government of placing him on the SIS, which led to him being barred from entering Poland to speak at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) conference.

The SIS is a security database that allows any member of the Schengen area, a group of 26 EU member states within which the free movement of people and goods is permitted, to ban people from entering any country within the bloc.

Paperwork shown to MEE relating to Rabbani's entry ban to Poland confirmed that his name was on the SIS list.

Earlier this year, France's interior ministry banned Rabbani from entering the country and accused him of spreading conspiracy theories about "Islamophobic persecution" in France. 

The interior ministry outlined the reasons for banning Rabbani in a document dated 31 October 2022, which said: "His presence on national territory would constitute a serious threat to public order and [the] internal security of France."

The ban cited Rabbani's conviction in the UK for refusing to disclose his mobile phone passcode when he was stopped in 2017 under schedule 7 counter-terrorism powers.

France imposed the ban a month after Rabbani addressed a meeting of the OSCE in September 2022 in Poland, where he accused the French government of having a "racist government agenda" and "terrorising" its Muslim community.

Rabbani's barring from Switzerland came on the same day that his organisation announced that it had adopted a new name, Cage International, to mark its 20th anniversary and reflect the international nature of its work.

The advocacy group was originally founded in 2003 as CagePrisoners, to call for the closure of the US military's Guantanamo Bay detention facility and campaign against the torture and abuse of prisoners held by the US as part of the so-called "war on terror" in the aftermath of al-Qaeda's 2001 9/11 attacks and the US-led invasion of Afghanistan.

Known simply as Cage since 2013, it describes itself as having "consistently been at the vanguard in fighting against draconian counter-terrorism policies that indiscriminately target Muslim communities".

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