CAIRO (AP) — The co-founder of U.S.-based anti-war group CodePink said Tuesday that Egyptian police detained her at Cairo's international airport when she tried to enter the country on route to the Gaza Strip and treated her roughly, fracturing her shoulder as they handcuffed her before deporting her.
Egyptian officials denied Medea Benjamin was assaulted, saying she had refused to leave despite being told that the border to Gaza is closed because of military operations in the area. However, other members of the same delegation of women activists heading to Gaza were allowed into Egypt, and it was not clear why Benjamin was singled out for deportation.
Speaking from Turkey, where she was deported, Benjamin told The Associated Press she was roughed up by Egyptian airport officials and security agents, who declined to explain why she was barred from entry, telling her only that she was on a blacklist.
When she refused to board a plane to Istanbul without first meeting with U.S. embassy officials, the 61-year-old Benjamin said security agents wrestled her to the ground, sat on her back and yanked her arms behind her.
"They put (on) extremely, extremely tight (plastic) handcuffs" on, she said. She said it was then that her shoulder was dislocated and that a doctor later reset it but told her it was fractured and a ligament was torn. She said the police dragged her across the airport to a plane for Istanbul. "It was as if I was some kind of crazy terrorist," she said.
Benjamin was held in the Cairo airport for nearly 14 hours, half of the time in a cell for deportees.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said consular officers in Egypt were in contact with Benjamin. "Due to privacy considerations, we can't provide additional details, but I can assure you that our consular officers in Egypt did provide all of the assistance necessary," she said.
Benjamin was heading to the Gaza Strip as part of a delegation of women activists to express support for the impoverished territory, subjected to heavy restrictions by Israel and Egypt. Benjamin said she had obtained a visa, had coordinated with the Egyptian embassy in Washington and the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, and that the delegation had coordinated with the Egyptian Foreign Ministry regarding their visit to Gaza.
Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr AbdelAttie said Benjamin had a visa to Egypt, but that officials told her the Gaza border was closed. "She refused to return on the same flight."
Another member of the women's delegation, Anne Wright, arrived in Cairo after Benjamin and was allowed into the country without any problems. Wright told AP that around 20 other members of the 100-member group were already in Egypt.
"We hope all of them are allowed in," she said. "None of them, including Medea, have done anything to trigger deportation."
Benjamin has visited Gaza seven times before, most recently in November 2012.
Egyptian authorities have previously denied activists entry to Gaza. The border has now been closed since last month, as troops destroy smuggling tunnels and wage an ongoing offensive against Islamic militants in the Sinai Peninsula.
An Egyptian airport official denied Benjamin was assaulted, and said she was deported on orders from a security agency.
The official, who spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to brief reporters, said that after being told to leave the country, Benjamin threatened a senior security official that she would "make a scandal" for them before the world if they deport her.
Benjamin confirmed the encounter with the official. She said he told her she was on a blacklist but didn't explain why and never said the border was closed.
"I said I am a friend of Egypt. I said it is not good for U.S.- Egypt relations," she said. He "started screaming that I was threatening him, and that he will take legal action against me."
Benjamin said she asked for translators, but never got any. She said the official reached out for his telephone to translate words such as "sovereignty" during their conversation before putting her in the cell.