U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called out the Egypt government on Tuesday to respect freedom of the press in the country in the wake of a crackdown that followed protests, reported Reuters. The statement follows the Egyptian security forces raid on the office of independent news website Mada Masr.
“As part of our long-standing strategic partnership with Egypt, we continue to raise the fundamental importance of respect for human rights, universal freedoms, and the need for a robust civil society,” Pompeo said in a news conference.
He also appealed the government to release detained journalists.
“We call on the Egyptian government to respect freedom of the press and release journalists detained during a raid last weekend,” he added.
Mada Masr is one of Egypt’s last independent news outlets publishing critical stories against Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, his government and security agencies despite tightening controls on media in the country. Despite being blocked in Egypt since 2017, the news outlet is accessible via virtual private networks.
On Sunday, the Egyptian security forces raided Mada Masr’s offices and briefly detained three of its staff, including its editor in chief Lina Attallah, managing editor Mohamed Hamama, and reporter Rana Mamdouh and confiscated their laptops and phones. They were later released from a local police station.
President Sisi’s government has launched a brutal crackdown on journalists and press freedom since coming to power in a military coup in 2013. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the security forces have arrested at least eight journalists since anti-government protests broke out in the country in September.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based watchdog, claims Egypt jails more journalists than any country other than China and Turkey.
Last month, the U.N. human rights office also called on Egypt to free a prominent blogger, a lawyer and a journalist, all of whom it said were mistreated in custody.