Turkey "strongly condemns" raid on news agency's office, demands immediate release of employees. US says Cairo must free detained staffers and "allow for a free and open press."

Egyptian security forces close off a street near the Press Syndicate as journalists protest, in Cairo, Egypt, May 3, 2016. (File photo)
Egyptian security forces close off a street near the Press Syndicate as journalists protest, in Cairo, Egypt, May 3, 2016. (File photo) (AP)

Turkey's Anadolu Agency said on Wednesday that Egyptian police raided its office in Cairo and detained four of its staff members.

Anadolu Agency said it had no information on where its employees, including one Turkish citizen, were taken to following the raid late Tuesday. The Turkish citizen is in charge of the office's finances and management.

Egyptian security forces shut down the agency's security cameras and internet and searched the premises overnight, the agency reported. The workers' passports, cell phones and computers were confiscated, it said, adding that no explanation was given to the agency's lawyer.

Foreign Ministry condemns raid

Turkey's Foreign Ministry condemned the raid, demanded the immediate release of the Anadolu employees and summoned the top Egyptian diplomat in protest, a ministry official said.

"The raid on Anadolu Agency’s Cairo office last night by the Egyptian security forces and the detention of some of the office workers without justification is an act of harassment and intimidation against the Turkish press, we strongly condemn it," the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"This act of violence against AA (Anadolu Agency) once again highlighted not only the negative approach of the Egyptian government to press freedom, but also its grave situation on democracy and transparency," the statement said.

"Western countries, which seem sensitive about the freedom of press and expression, have a role in this reckless attitude, by overlooking the condemnation of the violations in this country," it added.

Turkey’s Communications Director Fahrettin Altun also condemned the Egyptian authorities “for their hostile attitude towards the Turkish press.”

"The hostile attempt of Egyptian coup d'etat towards the employees of Anadolu Agency is an indication of how insolent they are," Altun added.

US seeks release of staff

US called on Egyptian authorities to free the news agency's employees detained, saying Cairo must "allow for a free and open press in Egypt."

"We’re aware of the reports. If true, we call on the Egyptian Government to release the detained journalists and allow for a free and open press in Egypt," a State Department spokesperson told Anadolu Agency.

Anadolu Agency's Director-General Senol Kazanci also called for the immediate release of the employees.

“Egyptian authorities should immediately release AA employees,” Kazanci said.

He also stressed that the attitude of the Egyptian security forces towards the press was “unacceptable.”

Meanwhile, Turkey's Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin and Industry and Technology Minister Mustafa Varank extended their support to Anadolu Agency.

Egyptian official confirms arrests

An Egyptian official confirmed the arrests and accused the news agency of operating without a license.

Media are required to have permission to work in Egypt, but that requirement is often used as a pretext to silence reporting the state sees as critical.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity under regulations, said security forces raided an apartment in the heart of Cairo that Anadolu used as a makeshift office, confiscating documents and cameras.

He accused two journalists of spreading news that distorted Egypt’s image, and said prosecutors were investigating all four employees.

Tense relations 

The incident reflects tense relations between Turkey and Egypt. Turkey, which backed Egypt's first democratically elected former president, Mohamed Morsi, has been a staunch critic of former army general and current president Abdel Fattah el Sisi.

As part of a broader regional rivalry, Turkey and Egypt back opposing sides in Libya’s chaotic war. In a bid to boost its influence in the eastern Mediterranean, Ankara recently signed security and maritime agreements with Libya’s UN-backed government based in Tripoli. The deals prompted particular outrage in Egypt, which supports warlord Khalifa Haftar’s eastern militia. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies