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Egyptian security forces arrest three journalists in Cairo: Report

Egyptian media outlet Mada Masr says six people, including three journalists, were detained in raid on Cairo cafe
Egyptian security forces stand guard during a demonstration in Cairo in April 2016 (AFP/File photo)

Egyptian security forces raided a coffee shop in Cairo and arrested six people, including three journalists, according to independent news website Mada Masr.

The journalists detained late on Tuesday were Soulafa Magdy, her husband Hossam al-Sayyad, and Mohamed Salah, Mada Masr said in a tweet, citing eyewitness accounts.

"Security forces raided a coffee shop in the Cairo neighbourhood of Dokki on Tuesday evening and arrested six people, including three journalists," the news organisation said.

MEE could not independently verify the information.

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In a subsequent tweet, Mada Masr said police at Dokki station denied the report that six people had been detained.

The alleged raid comes just days after plainclothes Egyptian security forces stormed the offices of Mada Masr and detained three senior journalists.

Mada Masr is a news organisation critical of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and publishes reports that criticise the government and security agencies.

It is one of hundreds of websites that have been blocked by the Egyptian government in recent years.

The security forces refused to identify themselves, Mada Masr said about the weekend raid, and then rounded up the staff, holding them in the newsroom.

They seized staff members' phones and laptops, as well as ID cards and other personal information, even asking some to also unlock their devices, the news outlet said.

After widespread international outcry over the arrests, the news outlet's editor-in-chief Lina Attallah, managing editor Mohamed Hamama, and reporter Rana Mamdouh were released at Dokki police station.

The Cairo neighbourhood is also where the three other journalists were arrested on Tuesday.

PEN America, an organisation that advocates for press freedom, issued a statement on Tuesday saying the detention of Mada Masr journalists was an attempt to silence them.

"These reprehensible attacks are a clear attempt to silence what may be the last remaining bastion of independent reporting in Egypt," said Summer Lopez, senior director of free expression programs at PEN America, in a statement.

Rare Pompeo rebuke

Earlier on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offered a rare rebuke to Egypt, calling on the government to release detained journalists.

"As a part of our longstanding, 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 remarks delivered to the press.

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

President Sisi's government has led a brutal crackdown on journalists and press freedom since coming to power in a 2013 military coup.

The Egyptian government has arrested at least eight journalists since anti-government protests broke out in the country in September, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.