Egyptian authorities barred the executive director of Human Rights Watch and another staff member from entering the country on Sunday, two days before they were to release a report on mass killings by Egyptian police last year, the rights group has said.
The New York-based watchdog is expected to launch a report on Tuesday about the killings of hundreds in six different incidents, including last summer's forceful dispersal of a major Cairo sit-in held by supporters of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
Executive Director Kenneth Roth and Middle East and North Africa Director Sarah Leah Whitson flew to Cairo on Sunday, where they were due to brief journalists and diplomats on the findings of the report on deadly events in July and August of last year in the aftermath of Morsi's overthrow.
The duo were stopped at the airport and held by authorities Sunday night.
Whitson tweeted on Monday that she waited 12 hours before being deported for "security reasons".
"We came to Egypt to release a serious report on a serious subject that deserves serious attention from the Egyptian government," Roth said in a Monday statement. "Instead of denying the messenger entry to Egypt, the Egyptian authorities should seriously consider our conclusions and recommendations and respond with constructive action."
Apparently tweeting from the airport, Roth said the Rabaa "massacre was too ruthless for Egypt's head-in-sand approach to work. Barring HRW won't make the world forget."
"Not auspicious for Egypt's bringing Rabaa murderers to justice if it won't even discuss their crimes with HRW."
This is the first time Egyptian authorities have barred employees from the rights group from entering the country. Human Rights Watch closed its Cairo office in February, citing concerns over the deteriorating security and political situation.
Earlier on Monday, Omar Shakir, author and principle researcher of the group's report on the mass killings, confirmed to Reuters that Roth and Whitson had been held by authorities since Sunday night. He said via Twitter the two and himslef were "all leaving Cairo and Safe."
Human Rights Watch said in a statement the report documents how Egypt's police and army "methodically opened fire with live ammunition", killing at least 1,150 protesters during the dispersals of one of the largest protest camps by Morsi's supporters at Cairo's Rabaa Al-Adaweya Square and five other demonstrations.
No one has been held accountable for the crackdown a year later.
The rights group said it had shared its findings with the Egyptian government and asked to meet officials during this week's visit – but received no response.
"It appears the Egyptian government has no appetite to face up to the reality of these abuses, let alone hold those responsible to account," Roth said in a statement.
The group emphasised its report – titled "All According to Plan: The Rab’aa Massacre and Mass Killings of Protesters in Egypt" – will still be released as scheduled on Tuesday morning.
Government officials were not immediately available for comment.