Two British journalists and their fixer were charged in Turkey yesterday (31 August) with “engaging in terror activity” on behalf of Islamic State, allegations their media organisation quickly dismissed as an attempt to censor its reporting.
Two Vice News journalists, Jake Hanrahan, Philip Pendlebury, as well as a fixer and a driver were detained by the Turkish authorities while reportedly filming clashes between police and supporters of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the province of Diyarbakir.
Vice News has become known for reporting in some of the most difficult and dangerous parts of the world, including getting unprecedented access last summer to part of Syria controlled by ISIS.
The journalists were reporting on clashes in the south east in the past week when they were detained. They were being held at the Diyarbak?r Police General Directorate and questioned by anti-terrorism police.
The last tweet of Jake Hanrahan show scenes from Cizre, South-East Turkey, where the youth wing of PKK, YDG-H, claims self-rule.
Unnamed Turkish security sources said the journalists were rounded up for working in the region without government accreditation and were accused of coming in “close contact with Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants”.
Vice News said that the Turkish government had levelled “baseless and alarmingly false charges” of working on behalf of a terrorist organisation against the reporters, “in an attempt to intimidate and censor their coverage”.
The Turkish government is known to level terrorism charges in attempts to silence the press. Earlier this month, the Turkish government accused 18 editors at nine news outlets of supporting terrorism.
Several advocacy groups called on the Turkish government to release the Vice journalists soon after reports of their arrests surfaced last week.
Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Turkey researcher, said in a statement that the arrests were “yet another example of the Turkish authorities suppressing the reporting of stories that are embarrassing to them.”
Nina Ognianova, the Europe and Central Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said “authorities ought to protect, not gag journalists on the job.”
“Talking to all parties involved in a conflict is just good journalism,” CPJ’s Ognianova said. “Being ‘in close contact’ with their sources is what reporters do.”
A ceasefire between the Turkish government and the PKK ended in July when separatists shot dead 18 police officers and soldiers, news reports said.
In late July, Turkey’s telecommunications regulator, the T?B, blocked domestic access to pro-Kurdish and leftist websites based in Turkey and northern Iraq, according to news reports. A court said the websites were blocked for “promoting terrorist propaganda,” news reports said.
Turkey is a EU candidate country and is scrutinised by the Commission for its track record in the areas of human rights and media freedom.
- Committee to Protect Journalists: Eighteen Turkish journalists face jail terms on terrorism allegations
- Committee to Protect Journalists: CPJ calls for the release of VICE News reporters, fixer, in Diyarbakir, Turkey
- Amnesty International: Amnesty calls for release of three journalists working for VICE in Turkey