U.S. activist says Egyptian police beat her: 'They stomped on me'

Olivier Knox, Yahoo News
Yahoo News

Anti-war activist Medea Benjamin charged Tuesday that she suffered a dislocated left arm and severe trauma after being detained on arrival in Egypt and then forced by security officials from a jail cell at the Cairo airport onto a Turkey-bound flight.

“They dragged me and they threw me on the floor. They pulled my arm out of its socket, then dragged me across the tarmac,” the Code Pink co-founder told Yahoo News in a telephone interview from an airport clinic in Istanbul. “My arm is traumatized and swollen and torn, and I am in excruciating pain from the nape of my neck down to my waist.”

Benjamin tweeted her ordeal, including photos of the airport prison cell she said she shared with four other women, one of whom lent her a power cord for her telephone when the battery ran down.

Benjamin is a well-known American activist famous for wearing her group’s signature color and disrupting events in Washington and around the nation. She has protested inside congressional hearings and political conventions, and even heckled President Barack Obama’s speech at the National Defense University in May 2013, prompting the president to say, “The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to.” She rose to prominence protesting the Iraq War, but in recent years has widened her group’s campaign to include opposition to America’s use of drones.

Benjamin said she traveled to Cairo to begin a journey to Gaza, which shares a border with Egypt, for an international women’s day event. She never left the airport, where she was detained shortly after stepping off her flight at 8:30 p.m. local time Monday.

After hours spent in the cell, “five very scary-looking men came for me,” she said. Through contacts with friends in the United States and Egypt she had learned that American diplomats were just 10 minutes away, so she resisted going with the men, who removed her by force, she told Yahoo News.

They grabbed her, threw her to the floor, and put two sets of handcuffs on her, she recounted. In the scuffle, “I heard the ‘pop’ of my shoulder, and I started screaming. They wouldn’t stop.”

"They stomped on me," she said.

The men dragged her to a Turkish Airlines flight bound for Istanbul. The airline initially argued that she was in no shape for a flight. An Egyptian doctor agreed, but in the end she boarded the plane and ended up in a middle seat with an Egyptian security officer on either side. “I was between two of the same guys who beat me up,” she said.

Benjamin said she was moaning so loud from the pain that the crew asked for a doctor. An Egyptian orthopedic surgeon working in Italy answered the call. “He got my arm back in its socket, and he gave me a shot for the pain, and it was so much better,” Benjamin said.

She said she was speaking from the clinic at the Istanbul airport, waiting for staff there to fix their MRI machine, having just received her third shot of painkiller for what doctors have described as a torn ligament.

“I’m shaking like a leaf here, I’m in extreme trauma and I can’t get my embassy to come and help me,” she said. “I’m in no shape to travel, but I’ve got to go home.”

A State Department official, who requested anonymity to discuss the situation, said in a statement that U.S. “consular officers in Egypt were in contact with the U.S. citizen and provided all appropriate consular assistance.”

“In regards to the allegations that the Cairo police broke her arm, we would refer you to the Egyptian police for further information,” the official said. “Questions regarding Ms. Benjamin’s deportation or Egyptian visa should be referred to the government of Egypt. Due to privacy considerations, we are unable to comment further.”

“That’s such a lie,” Benjamin upon hearing the statement. “They never made contact with me. Never, ever. My friends were calling them from the U.S. and from Cairo.

They told my friends they were on the way over. They constantly lied. I was on the tarmac for an hour. They never showed up. That’s just a bald-faced lie.”

Benjamin said she got by thanks to her four cell-mates  one from Turkey, one from the Comoros Islands, another from Senegal and one from Syria, all of whom were detained for “visa issues,” she said. “I used everybody’s phones,” she said. “One of them had a plug, and so I used her plug.”

Egypt, still wrestling with violent political turmoilsince longtime president and close U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, has been an unwelcoming place for American and other foreign activists, even those merely stopping in Cairo on their way elsewhere.

And a recent State Department travel warning for Egypt urged Americans to stay away from demonstrations there.

“Foreign journalists, credentialed or not, have also been increasingly targeted by both security forces and Egyptian citizens while attempting to cover demonstrations or gain access to restricted areas,” it said. “Several have been detained for prolonged periods as a result of their activities, and others have been subjected to verbal or physical assault by citizens suspicious about the reason for their presence."

“I don’t know what I did and can’t get an explanation,” Benjamin said.

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