Pompeo urges Egypt to respect freedom of press after journalist detentions

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo holds a news conference at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium November 20, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday called on Egypt to respect freedom of the press, days after Egyptian security forces raided the office of independent news website Mada Masr and briefly detained three of its staff.

“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.

Rights activists say Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has overseen an unprecedented crackdown on freedoms in Egypt since he took power in 2014. Sisi and his backers say the measures are needed to keep Egypt stable and to counter threats from Islamist militants.

Mada Masr is one of Egypt’s last independent news outlets publishing critical stories after years of tightening controls on media and arrests of journalists and bloggers. Its website, which carries stories in Arabic and English, is blocked in Egypt.

On Sunday, Mada Masr said Egyptian security forces raided its offices and briefly detained three of its staff, including its top editor, and confiscated their laptops and phones. All three were later released from a local police station, it said.

Last month, the U.N. human rights office called on Egypt to free a prominent blogger, a lawyer and a journalist, all of whom it said were mistreated in custody.

They are among several thousand people who activists say have been detained following rare protests against Sisi in Cairo and other cities in September.

Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Bill Berkrot