CAIRO — Authorities detained and then turned away a San Francisco-based political activist after she arrived in Egypt with the intention of traveling to the Gaza Strip, Egyptian officials said Tuesday.
The activist, Medea Benjamin, boarded a return flight to Istanbul, where her organization said she planned to seek medical treatment for injuries suffered while in Egyptian custody. Benjamin is a co-founder of Code Pink, which describes itself as a grass-roots social justice movement.
Benjamin had tweeted from a holding cell at the Cairo airport that police had broken her arm after holding her overnight. Later, the Bloomberg news agency quoted her as saying by phone that police had “pulled my arm out of the socket.” Egyptian authorities denied any maltreatment.
Code Pink confirmed that Benjamin had hoped to meet with female Palestinian activists in Gaza, which shares a border with Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. Egypt is conducting a military offensive in the northern Sinai, and the crossing point into Gaza at Rafah is often closed.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdel-Atty said Benjamin was not formally deported, but rather “convinced” to board a return flight to Istanbul because travel to Gaza via Rafah would be impossible. Asked whether she had been harmed in any way by police, he said she had been “dealt with in a decent manner.”
Despite claims of police reform by the military-backed interim government, detainee abuse remains commonplace, according to human rights groups and accounts by many arrestees. On Monday, two police officers were sentenced to 10-year prison terms in the 2010 beating death of a young activist.
Other Westerners have run afoul of Egyptian authorities while trying to travel to Gaza. Two Canadian nationals, a doctor and a filmmaker, spent seven weeks in jail last year after being arrested in Cairo on the eve of a planned trip to the coastal enclave. They were freed in October.
Relations between Egypt and Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules Gaza, are tense. On Tuesday, an Egyptian court banned any activity by the group inside the country. Egypt’s ousted Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, is on trial on charges including espionage, with authorities alleging he colluded with Hamas.
Egypt has repeatedly accused Hamas of aiding Islamist militants in Sinai. Hamas has denied any involvement in the fighting on the peninsula.
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