The Egyptian Foreign Ministry responded early on Thursday to Turkey’s statement about the arrest of four journalists working for the official Turkish Anadolu News Agency in Egypt, one of whom was a Turkish national, alleging that Anadolu is an “illegal” company founded by the Muslim Brotherhood, which is outlawed in Egypt and has been designated a terrorist group since 2013.
Ahmed Hafez, a spokesperson for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, stressed in the statement “Egypt’s rejection, in whole and in detail, of what was stated by the Foreign Turkish Ministry and other Turkish statements,” calling the arrest of the four journalists this week “legal measures” taken by the Egyptian authorities against one of the electronic “illegal” Turkish media outlets in Egypt.
With backing from Turkey, Hafez claimed, the Anadolu spreads “false and fabricated information” related to political, economic, security and legal conditions in Egypt, in what he alleged is an attempt to “distort the country’s image” domestically and abroad.
Hagez continued: “All the measures taken by the relevant Egyptian authorities in this regard were carried out in accordance with the laws and regulations in force.”
The statement described the current regime in Turkey under current president Recep Tayyip Erdogan as “one of the worst” on the international indicators of press freedom, freedom of expression and opinion, as well as other fundamental rights.
He pointed out that Turkey occupied an advanced position in the rates of imprisonment of journalists, ranking 157 out of 180 countries on the Freedom of the Press Index for 2019. He added that licenses of nearly 682 journalists in Turkey from November 2018 to March 2019 were revoked.
Hafez also claimed that Turkey supported and financed extremist groups and terrorist militias in a number of countries in the region in an attempt to achieve personal aspirations and “evoke past glories.”
Egyptian authorities have led a crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters since former president Mohamed Morsi’s ouster in July 2013. Egypt listed the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization that same year and insists that the group is behind the wave of militancy that has targeted security personnel since Morsi’s ouster. The Brotherhood denies those accusations.
A number of websites have been blocked in Egypt since 2017, some of which have been accused of ties to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, including the independent news website Mada Masr, the privately-owned Daily News Egypt, Qatar-owned news agencies Al-Jazeera, El-Sharq, Al-Rayah and El-Watan, and the US-based HuffPost Arabic, without any official announcement or clarification from telecommunications entities at the time regarding the reason.
Amnesty International condemned the blockage of news websites, criticizing the state’s reasoning of “protecting national security” as justification for the continued repression of media freedoms.
The arrests come amid heightened tensions between Turkey and Egypt over Turkey’s military intervention in Libya in support militias allied to the UN-backed Government of National Accord, which is currently fighting off an offensive by Libyan National Army commander Khalifa Haftar.
The Speaker of the Libyan Parliament, Aguila Saleh, said on January 13 that the rival government may find itself forced to call on the Egyptian Armed Forces to intervene if foreign parties intervene in Libya.
France, Russia, Egypt, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates have supported Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army, while Turkey, Qatar, and Italy back the support the GNA.
Meanwhile, Turkey and Russia failed to convince Haftar on January 13 to agree to a binding truce to stop the offensive, according to a report from Reuters, ahead of the upcoming Berlin summit on Sunday.