The executive director of Human Rights Watch and another senior staff member have been denied entry to Egypt for “security reasons” after being held at Cairo airport for 12 hours, two of the group’s staff said on Monday.
Kenneth Roth and Sarah Leah Whitson had flown to Cairo to take part in the launch of a report on Tuesday, on the mass killings of protesters by security forces last year.
The protesters, supporters of the ousted president Mohamed Morsi, had been camped out around the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo for weeks when police moved in to disperse them on 14 August last year, using teargas and live ammunition.
A government official estimated that roughly 700 protesters were killed in the dispersal, along with eight policemen. Rights activists say the number of dead could have been significantly higher.
Human Rights Watch is one of a number of international and Egyptian rights groups that have expressed alarm about a severe and increasingly broad crackdown on dissent since the army’s overthrow of Morsi in July 2013.
Whitson, the head of the Middle East and north Africa division at Human Rights Watch, tweeted on Monday morning that she had been held for 12 hours before being deported.
“It’s official – shortest visit to Cairo ever – 12 hours before deportation for ‘security reasons’ – the new Egypt certainly ‘transitioning’,” Whitson wrote.
Omar Shakir, author and principle researcher of the group’s report on the mass killings, confirmed to Reuters that Roth and Whitson had been denied entry after landing in Cairo and being held by authorities since Sunday night. He said Whitson had left the country and Roth would be leaving on a separate flight later in the morning.
Government officials were not immediately available for comment. Cairo has said previously that it is fighting a war on terror, and it makes no distinction between the thousands of Islamists it has arrested and the hardline militants targeting security forces in the Sinai peninsula.
Shakir told Reuters that the New York-based rights group had already shared the key findings of the 188-page report, based on a year-long investigation, but had received no official response.
On Sunday, Reuters requested government comment on the findings and recommendations of the report before its scheduled release. An official said the government would comment once the report was published.