ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s state-run news agency said 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 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 premise 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.
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 last night by the Egyptian security forces on the Anadolu Agency Cairo bureau and the detention of some of the office workers without justification amounts to harassment and intimidation against Turkish media,” the ministry said in a statement.
“We expect Egyptian authorities to immediately release the detained employees,” the ministry added.
It also blamed Western nations for the raid, accusing them of “turning a blind eye” to rights violations in Egypt.
In a sharply worded statement, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry expressed its “total and complete rejection” of Turkey’s response, and defended its security forces for acting lawfully. It said Turkey’s concerns over press freedom in Egypt obscured the country’s own rampant violations of free speech and human rights.
Egypt’s Interior Ministry said it targeted the news agency as part of its “efforts to expose the plots of the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood and the countries supporting it.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist party has long backed the Muslim Brotherhood, now outlawed and underground in Egypt. The countries had close ties during the one-year presidency of Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood figure whose divisive rule sparked mass protests.
As defense minister, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi led the military’s removal of Morsi, and has since branded the group an enemy of the state.
The ministry accused Anadolu of spreading “false news with the aim of distorting Egypt’s image.”
It said security forces raided an apartment in the heart of Cairo that Anadolu used as a makeshift office, and arrested the four employees, including two journalists, for investigation.
The incident reflects rising tensions between Turkey and Egypt.
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 embattled U.N.-backed government based in Tripoli. The deals prompted particular outrage in Egypt, which supports Gen. Khalifa Hifter’s eastern forces. Egypt sees Turkey as a threat to its drilling, pipeline and other maritime rights in the Mediterranean Sea.
In recent years, Egyptian authorities have jailed dozens of Egyptian reporters and occasionally expelled foreign journalists from the country. Egypt remains among the world’s worst jailers of journalists, along with Turkey and China, according to The Committee to Protect Journalists, a U.S.-based watchdog.
“Journalists operating in Egypt should not have to work in fear that they will be used to settle political scores between countries,” said Sherif Mansour, the Middle East and North Africa program coordinator for CPJ.
The group urged Egyptian authorities to release agency staffers and “stop using false news charges to harass and silence the media.”