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Dr. Ghassan Abu Sittah in Gaza. (Photo: IG Page)

By Palestine Chronicle Staff  

“This decision means that Ghassan’s freedom of expression and freedom of movement are no longer under threat, and he can speak out about what he witnessed in Gaza. This victory cannot be overstated.”

A German court has overturned the Schengen-area travel ban imposed on Dr Ghassan Abu Sitta, the British-Palestinian surgeon who witnessed Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza during the first days of the war.

The successful legal challenge was led by lawyer Alexander Gorski, with support from lawyers from the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP) and European Legal Support Centre (ELSC) on Professor Abu Sitta’s behalf, the ICJP said in a statement on Tuesday.

Over the past few weeks, Dr Abu Sitta attempted to travel abroad “to speak about the Israeli war crimes he witnessed during the 43 days that he worked as a war surgeon in Gaza.”

“He was prevented from entering Germany, France and the Netherlands, due to German authorities implementing a Schengen-area travel ban on Professor Ghassan. This demonstrated a deprivation of his freedom of expression and freedom to travel,” the ICJP stated.

‘Weak Reasoning’

ELSC Lawyer Alexander Gorski said, “German police delivered a surprisingly weak reasoning for the entry ban issued against Dr Ghassan Abu Sitta.”

Gorski added, “By rejecting it as lacking any substantial evidence, the court affirms our case and calls the entire investigation into question.”

Abu Sitta, he emphasized, worked tirelessly to help Palestinians in Gaza, “in dreadful conditions, and yet he has faced such unfair treatment upon his return.”

“This decision means that Ghassan’s freedom of expression and freedom of movement are no longer under threat, and he can speak out about what he witnessed in Gaza. This victory cannot be overstated.”

The ELSC said, “This victory highlights the illegality of Germany’s increasingly authoritarian anti-Palestinian state repression and should encourage everyone to speak up against the ongoing genocide on Gaza.”

Detained at Airport

On April 12, Abu Sitta was detained at the Berlin airport and “questioned for around 3.5 hours.”

He was later told he would “not be allowed to enter German soil.”

“And not just that, that if I were to try to link up by Zoom or FaceTime with the conference, even if I was outside Germany, or I were to send a video of my lecture to the conference in Berlin, then that would constitute a breach of German law and that I would endanger myself to having a fine or even up to a year of prison,” Abu Sitta shared at the time.

Abu Sitta was set to speak about his experiences in Gaza at the Palestine Congress. The authorities banned the three-day congress after the first speaker concluded his remarks. Hundreds of attendees were forcefully removed by the police.

On May 4, Abu-Sitta was also denied entry to France. Upon arrival in Paris, where he was scheduled to speak at a symposium in the Senate, he was informed that Germany had imposed a Schengen-wide ‘administrative ban’ on him for one year.

The ICJP said Abu Sitta was most recently, prevented from entering the Netherlands, where he was due to speak on May 17, 2024, to civil society organisations and Dutch MPs at the University of Amsterdam.

A spokesperson for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs reportedly said on Thursday that the Netherlands decided to abide by an earlier decision from Germany, which previously did not grant the surgeon a Schengen visa.

‘Chilling Environment’ for Rights Advocates

“These efforts by German authorities constitute a serious breach of freedom of movement & expression in Europe and now a judge has ruled that the travel ban should be overturned.”

The ICJP stressed that the ruling is a “significant victory for freedom of speech and a significant turning point in challenging the chilling environment that many Palestinian human rights advocates have to operate in.”

The organization said that “Despite hostile media and smear tactics, Ghassan was elected as Rector of Glasgow University, his alma mater, by a landslide, winning 80% of the vote.”

Upon his return to the UK last November, the physician described the situation in the Gaza Strip  as “dystopian” with Israel’s main aim being to turn the enclave into “an uninhabitable death world.”

(The Palestine Chronicle)

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