Turkish State News Says One of Its Journalists Released but Others Remain Detained
The detentions come amid increased tension between regional rivals Egypt and Turkey, who back warring sides in Libya
Turkey’s state news agency said one of its journalists was released from detention in Egypt while three others remained in custody on Thursday evening, amid growing political tension between Ankara and Cairo.
The Turkish Anadolu agency stated that Hilmic Balci, the only Turkish citizen among the four detained, was freed and the location of other employees is unknown.
The Turkish government condemned the detention and summoned Egypt’s top diplomat on Wednesday after the news agency reported that police in Cairo raided its offices and took four journalists away.
The Reuters news agency reported that the Egyptian Interior Ministry accused the Turkish government and the Muslim Brotherhood of carrying out “adverse activity” where the raid took place.
The detentions come amid rising tensions between rivals Turkey and Egypt, who support opposing sides of war-torn Libya.
Galip Dalay, an analyst partly based in Istanbul and a nonresident fellow with the Brookings Doha Center think tank said the rivalry between Turkey and Egypt was a “frozen crisis” until recent fighting in Libya escalated tensions.
“This is not about any particular activities of the journalists per se, it’s more about the growing tensions between Turkey and Egypt that is spilling into [other] realms,” Dalay told The Media Line.
Ankara made a maritime agreement with the internationally recognized government in Libya to allow for joint drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The deal aims to set up an economic zone in the waters between Turkey and Libya that could be a barrier to Egypt, which wants to export oil to Europe.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Thursday that Turkey would give out licenses for drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean this year.
He also stated that Turkey has begun sending troops to Libya to support the government in the capital, Tripoli, which is facing an insurgency by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by Egypt.
The rivalry between the countries spans several years. Egypt was part of the blockade against Qatar, an ally of Turkey that hosts a Turkish military base in the Gulf country.
The two also hold opposing positions on the Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood, which Turkey supports and the Egyptian government opposes.
In 2013, the Egyptian army toppled then-President Mohamed Morsi, who was supported by Turkey and was a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
After Morsi died in a Cairo court while on trial for espionage charges, Erdoğan called him a “martyr.”
“In the end, the relations between both countries have suffered from multiple events,” Dalay said.
Both countries are listed by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) as some of the top jailers of journalists in the world.
There are 26 journalists behind bars in Egypt and 47 in Turkey, as of December, according to the CPJ.
CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa coordinator Sherif Mansour told The Media Line that the recent detentions continue a practice by the Egyptian government of “retaliatory and vindictive measures” against independent and critical media.
“While both [Turkey and Egypt] like to bring [up] each other’s human rights and press freedom records to try to … score political points, in reality, neither of them can claim moral authority on this. In many ways, it only proves the point, which is that there is a political, vindictive nature on both governments’ sides,” Mansour said.
Egypt has also detained journalists with Al Jazeera, which is funded by Qatar. Cairo accuses Qatar of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.
Mansour added that his top concern was that the Egyptian government could keep the journalists in pretrial detention indefinitely without providing evidence and that foreign journalists normally have a greater chance of eventually being released, based on previous detentions.
Mansour said that Egypt has used pretrial detention as a form of punishment and amended the law to increase the amount of time people can be held behind bars before being put on trial.
“What we hope [is] that the government will release any evidence that justifies holding those journalists in the first place,” he said.
It is anticipated that tensions between Turkey and Egypt could calm down with the warring sides in Libya joining peace talks in Berlin.
“The major defining factor will be Libya,” Dalay said. “That will be quite decisive whether tension will rise or decrease.”