CAIRO — Security officials have refused to allow two senior staff members from the New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch to enter Egypt, where the two were due to release the findings of the group’s yearlong investigation into mass killings of protesters carried out by Egyptian government forces last summer.
The group’s executive director, Kenneth Roth, and the director of the Middle East and North Africa division, Sarah Leah Whitson, said Monday that officials at Cairo International Airport ordered them deported soon after they arrived from New York via Paris on Sunday. It was the first time Egyptian authorities had denied entry to employees of Human Rights Watch, Whitson said.
Airport officials did not provide a specific reason for the deportation but wrapped a form around Whitson’s passport and checked a box that said, “For security reasons.”
The decision signaled government anxiety over the report, which examines state-led violence following the military ouster last summer of Egypt’s first elected civilian president, Mohammed Morsi, a leader of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. The investigation is focused on the events of Aug. 14, 2013, when security forces brutally dispersed a large sit-in of Morsi’s supporters held near the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo.
Over the course of that day, riot officers and soldiers killed more than 800 protesters — the prime minister at the time has said that nearly a thousand were killed — in the worst mass killing in modern Egyptian history. No security or government officials have been prosecuted in the killings, which set off a period of sustained civil conflict and government repression that has included the arrests of tens of thousands of people, including Islamists and leftist political activists.
Roth said the killings at Rabaa, which were “on par with the Tiananmen massacre,” were “ordered and permitted” by the top officials in the military-backed government, whose de facto leader at the time was Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Egypt’s current president. The report is scheduled to be released Tuesday.
The deportations Sunday seemed certain to intensify concerns about the disappearing space for free expression in Egypt. Human rights workers and civil society advocates have described an atmosphere that has grown more stifling than under Egypt’s last authoritarian leader, Hosni Mubarak, who was deposed in a popular uprising in 2011.
Airport officials wrapped a form around Sarah L. Whitson’s passport and checked a box that said, ‘For security reasons.’
Under Mubarak, “we had an open-door policy and an office here,” Whitson said. The group closed its office in Egypt earlier this year.