CAIRO — Egyptian officials placed a New York Times correspondent in custody after he landed in Cairo on Monday, detaining him for hours without food or water, and then ordered him onto a flight to London, the paper said Tuesday.
The expulsion of David D. Kirkpatrick is part of a growing crackdown on journalists by the government of President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, who is presiding over what critics describe as the most authoritarian era in Egypt’s modern history.
It was unclear why Egyptian security officials barred entry to Kirkpatrick. The paper reported that the government provided no explanation. Kirkpatrick, 48, was the New York Times Cairo bureau chief from 2011 to 2015 and recently wrote a book about Egypt, “Into the Hands of the Soldiers,” that was considered critical of the government.
Security officials detained Kirkpatrick on Monday night after he arrived at the Cairo airport and told him that he was officially being denied entry, the paper reported. His phone was confiscated, and he was held for seven hours without food or water, the paper said.
On Tuesday morning, Kirkpatrick was placed on an EgyptAir flight to London, where he is based. His passport was held by an air marshal and handed back to him only upon his arrival at Heathrow Airport, the paper said.
“We’re concerned about reports of the unexplained refusal of entry to Egypt of a U.S. citizen New York Times journalist,” said Sam Werberg, a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Cairo. “We have raised our concerns with Egyptian officials.”
In an internal memo sent to the New York Times staff, Michael Slackman, the paper’s international editor, wrote: “This is a disturbing development. We have correspondents in many places facing pressure from authoritarian governments, but Egypt is a country where we have operated for well over half a century without this kind of restriction.”
Slackman added that “freedom of the press is threatened in many corners of the world. Authoritarian leaders feel emboldened to try to silence the press just when it is needed most.”
That is precisely what is unfolding in Egypt. The Sissi government has jailed scores of journalists while intimidating countless more. Hundreds of websites deemed critical of the regime have been blocked or shut down, including most independent media outlets. The first shutdowns of websites began days after President Trump gave a speech in Saudi Arabia in May 2017, in which he made clear that the human rights abuses by allies in the Middle East would not be a high priority for his administration.
Since then, critics say, the Sissi government has been emboldened by the Trump administration’s relative silence on human rights abuses and Trump’s attacks on the media. Extrajudicial killings and detentions have increased, as have cases of capital punishment for anyone considered a threat to the regime.
Trump, nonetheless, considers Sissi one of his staunchest allies in the Middle East. A speech in Cairo last month by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reinforced this alliance and commended Sissi, saying he was bringing progress to Egypt.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, China, Egypt Saudi Arabia and Turkey were responsible for more than half of the 251 journalists jailed for their work last year. Egypt jailed the most journalists on charges of false news, 19, the organization said.
They include Mohamed Ibrahim, a blogger known as “Oxygen,” who is among 40 defendants arrested last year and charged with false news. His purported crime was covering allegations of election irregularities and police abuse, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
More recently, an Egyptian television journalist was sentenced to a year in prison simply for interviewing a gay man on his show. The most prominent jailed Egyptian photojournalist — Mahmoud Abou Zeid, who is widely known as Shawkan — has been imprisoned for more than five years. He was scheduled to be released in September but remains in custody for unknown reasons. Shawkan was expected to be freed Monday, his attorney said.
Western journalists, too, have been targeted. In March 2018, Egyptian officials expelled Bel Trew, a journalist with the Times of London, and made her board a flight to London.
Kirkpatrick’s writings have angered Egyptian authorities. His book is about the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011 and the tumultuous events that preceded Sissi leading a military coup that ousted elected Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. Kirkpatrick wrote an article last year about Egyptian intelligence officers’ efforts to manipulate news media on the government’s ties to Israel and other sensitive issues, the New York Times reported.
In a tweet Tuesday, Kirkpatrick’s wife, Laura Bradford, wrote: “He’s fine and home safe now. But I wonder if they would have dared hold him without Trump’s encouragement.”