Pompeo calls on Egypt to respect press freedom after crackdown

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urges Egypt at a news conference to respect press freedom

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Tuesday on close ally Egypt to respect freedom of the press in the wake of a crackdown that followed protests.

Pompeo made the call unprompted at a news conference after more robust criticism of adversary Iran, which has severed internet access as it also clamps down on demonstrators.

"As part of our long-standing strategic relationship 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.

"We call on the Egyptian government to respect freedom of the press and release journalists detained during a raid last weekend," he added.

David Schenker, the top US diplomat for the Middle East, later said that Washington was watching a controversial law recently amended by the Egyptian parliament that rights groups say will strictly curb non-governmental organizations.

"We urge Egypt to ensure that the new NGO laws implementing regulations don't restrict civil society, US assistance programs and Egypt's economic growth," Schenker told reporters.

He called on Egypt to "ensure journalists can work without threats of imprisonment and intimidation."

Egypt jails more journalists than any country other than China and Turkey, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based watchdog.

In one of the most recent episodes, plainclothes officers raided the Cairo office of news outlet Mada Masr, demanding that journalists unlock and hand over their phones and laptops.

Three journalists including chief editor Lina Attallah were arrested but eventually released.

Pompeo's statement comes despite warm relations between President Donald Trump and his counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, with the US leader hailing the former military chief's opposition to Islamism.