CAIRO (AP) — A leading rights group accused Egypt’s state-controlled media of launching a smear campaign against its staff following a report alleging that Egyptian police and armed forces committed widespread human rights violations while fighting Islamic insurgents in the Sinai Peninsula.
Earlier this week, the New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch released a 134-page report in which it said it documented arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, extrajudicial killings and possibly unlawful air and ground attacks against civilians. It said some of the abuses amount to war crimes.
“The Egyptian government should stop attacking the messenger and instead listen to Sinai residents’ grievances, investigate abuses, and allow evicted people to return to their homes as soon as the situation permits,” a statement issued by Human Rights Watch said Thursday.
Egyptian military spokesman Col. Tamer el-Refai dismissed the report, saying it was based on “unverified sources and attempts by some politicized groups to tarnish the image of Egypt and the armed forces through baseless allegations.”
The insurgency in Sinai intensified after the military’s 2013 ouster of Mohammed Morsi, a freely elected but divisive Islamist president. Morsi was toppled amid mass protests against him, a year after he took office. In February last year, Egypt began a massive anti-militant operation, mainly focused on Sinai but also on parts of Egypt’s Nile Delta and the Western Desert along the porous border with Libya.
Along with the report, the group released a promotional video featuring Egyptian staff member Amr Magdy highlighting the main findings. Europe-based Magdy has become the target of Egyptian media in recent days.
Ahmed Moussa, a longtime pro-government television host accused Magdy of being a terrorist and a traitor and vowed that one day Magdy would be extradited to Egypt where he would be punished. Several newspaper and television channels echoed the official response to the report alleging that Human Rights Watch receives funds from Egypt’s enemies.
“It is disappointing that the Egyptian government decided to respond in what seems to be a hysterical manner,” Michael Page, HRW Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa Division, told The Associated Press in a phone interview from London.
Access to northern Sinai has been restricted for years, making it difficult to independently verify what is happening on the ground.