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Egypt says to release Turkish news agency staff

January 16, 2020

Egypt said Thursday it would release staff from Turkey’s state news agency Anadolu a day after detaining them for spreading “false news” and working with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group.

Police had raided their Cairo office Tuesday and formally detained four staff members Wednesday at a time of rising tensions between the rival nations.

The interior ministry charged that the news bureau was a front for a “Turkish troll farm… intent on broadcasting false news about the country’s political, economic, security and rights situation”.

The ministry said the employees were working “with the aim of distorting the image” of Egypt and said their cases had been referred to the prosecution.

It published the full names of those arrested — three Egyptian journalists and one Turkish citizen, who handled the office’s finances.

But on Thursday evening, the prosecution said it would release not one, but two Turks, who would be deported via their embassy.

In a statement, prosecutor general Hamada Sawy said authorities would also release “three Egyptians on a bail of 10,000 Egyptian pounds” ($650).

Anadolu said Thursday that “one of our four employees who had been held in custody in Egypt” had been freed.

“We are awaiting the release on bail of our other employees,” chief editor Senol Kazanci said in a statement.

Asked about the case at his daily press conference, United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric voiced support for freedom of the press, calling for the release of the detainees.

Turkey has summoned Egypt’s charge d’affaires to protest the raid.

The Turkish and Egyptian governments have been fierce rivals since Ankara strongly supported Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood administration that was overthrown in a 2013 military ouster.

Egypt outlawed the Islamist group in the same year.

Ankara and Cairo are also on opposing sides of the Libyan conflict.

Turkey supports the UN-recognised government in Tripoli, which is under siege from forces loyal to eastern-based general Khalifa Haftar, who is supported by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

The United States, an ally of both Turkey and Egypt, said it had seen news reports on the raid and arrests.

“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 said.

New York-based rights group Committee to Protect Journalists slammed the arrests, saying “journalists operating in Egypt should not have to work in fear that they will be used to settle political scores between countries”.

“Authorities must immediately release the Anadolu News Agency staffers arrested yesterday and stop using false news charges to harass and silence the media,” CPJ added.

Egypt ranks third in the world in terms of the number of journalists in detention, behind China and Turkey, according to CPJ.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.