By Sena Guler and Ali Murat Alhas
ANKARA (AA) - The international community and leading journalism organizations across the globe have reacted to the detention of Anadolu Agency employees by Egyptian authorities on Tuesday following a raid on the agency's office in Cairo.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said his colleagues were in contact with the Egyptian officials "at various levels" and urging them to adhere to international human rights treaties.
“We are aware of the reports that Egyptian security forces raided Anadolu [Agency] offices in Cairo and reportedly arrested four journalists, including one Turkish national. They’ve been detained in an unknown location,” Dujarric told reporters in New York on Thursday.
Hilmi Balci, a Turkish citizen, returned to Istanbul on Friday morning. The whereabouts of the other three remain unknown.
As a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Egypt is obliged to protect the interests of journalists who are only doing their job, said Dujarric.
“Freedom of expression plays a central role in the effective functioning of a democratic political system,” said the UN spokesman.
“We call for the release of anyone who is detained. We would want to see them released or at least as a minimum have information as to their whereabouts.”
- EU, Germany express concern
The European Union also stressed that journalists should be able to work without being disrupted.
“The EU reiterates the importance it attaches to freedom of the press and diverse media environment, with professional journalists able to work unhindered, all over the world,” Peter Stano, the EU Commission spokesman, told Anadolu Agency.
A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said the country was aware of the reports regarding the detention of Anadolu Agency employees.
"If true, we call on the Egyptian government to release the detained journalists and allow for a free and open press in Egypt," said the spokesperson.
The German Foreign Ministry also joined the chorus of criticism.
“The German Foreign Office is concerned over the search of Turkish news agency Anadolu’s Cairo office and the arrest of four employees,” a Foreign Ministry spokesperson told Anadolu Agency.
“We have often expressed our worries about the situation of press freedom in Egypt. We believe that a free and diverse press is extremely important for a functioning social system. It enables dialogue and exchanges, and thereby contributes to stability and development,” the spokesperson said.
In addition to these countries and international bodies, various journalism organizations across the world were quick to react to the incident that breached freedom of speech.
On Wednesday, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called for the immediate release of the detained staff.
The group said in a statement that it had contacted the Egyptian Prosecutor General’s Office and State Information Service for more information about the police operation but was awaiting a response.
Vienna-based International Press Institute also "strongly" condemned the "blatant attack" on Anadolu Agency staff.
In a statement, the institute's Director of Advocacy, Ravi Prasad said: "Authorities in Cairo must immediately release all four journalists and explain the reason for their arrest."
Media Association, an Istanbul-based press group, was among those who condemned the detention of Anadolu Agency employees.
"We hereby condemn the Egyptian government and demand that Anadolu Agency employees be set free immediately," the association said in a statement.
It also called on the Egyptian government to “give up its hostile and arbitrary attitude against journalists”.
On Thursday, the Association of the Balkan News Agencies - Southeast Europe (ABNA-SE) urged Egypt to free the detained staff in Cairo.
“ABNA-SE calls for the immediate release of the journalists, who are being held without any information from the Egyptian authorities,” it said in a statement.
The association stressed that the raid was deeply worrying.
- World wants to know
The European Alliance of News Agencies (EANA) also called on Egypt to release the employees.
“EANA Board considers that the Egyptian authorities should immediately release the detained journalists and inform the international public on what were the legal grounds of their initial arrest,” the alliance said in a statement.
“EANA stands with its member, Anadolu Agency and its journalists,” it added.
Likewise, the Alliance of Mediterranean News Agencies (AMAN) said: “AMAN condemns such actions against the press and in this case against Anadolu staff members in Cairo.”
“AMAN stands with its member-agency and demands from the Egyptian Authorities the immediate release of Anadolu’s Cairo staff members, clearing the reasons of this raid,” the alliance added.
Stockholm-based human rights foundation, Skyline International, condemned the raid.
Moath Hamed, head of Middle East and North Africa desk, said in a statement that the detention shows the Egyptian authorities continue targeting journalistic work and freedom of the press.
Journalist groups across Indonesia, including the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) and the Indonesian Journalists Association (PWI), also strongly condemned the detention.
- Attempt to gag freedom of press
The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) termed the detentions as an attempt to gag the freedom of the press.
A South African media advocacy group, Media Review Network (MRN), decried the move and expressed "outrage that those detained without any valid legal basis have been taken to undisclosed locations”.
Azerbaijan’s state news agency AzerTac condemned the raid and expressed solidarity with the “friendly and brotherly country of Turkey’s news agency".
The Balkans joined in condemning Egypt's raid, with many describing the incident as an attempt to gag the freedom of the press.
Serbia's public news agency Tanjug, as well as B92, Danas and many more other private news outlets slammed Egypt's action.
The issue was also covered by Bosnia's state-run new agency Fena and one of the country's most popular newspapers, Oslobodjenje.
The North Macedonian-based Albanian-language Shenja TV as well as Top Channel -- one of Albania's leading TV networks -- reported on the raid, as did Kosovo-based daily Blic and Macedonian newspaper Nova Makedonija, which is one of the oldest newspapers in North Macedonia.
The regional N1 TV network and Aj Balkans also covered the story.
"By arresting 4 members of Anadolu Agency, Egypt is using them as hostages and as weapons in a diplomatic dispute. This is unacceptable," said Reporters Without Borders on Twitter.
The Turkish Cypriot Foreign Press Association also condemned Egypt and said the raid and arrests were attacks on basic human rights.
A global journalist group, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), said in a statement: “We strongly urge the Egyptian authorities to release all jailed media workers and to respect press freedom. No journalist should fear punishment for reporting the news.”
The Sudanese Journalists’ Union condemned the Egyptian police raid saying it violated the freedom of the press.