Two British journalists and a translator working with Vice News have been formally charged by a Turkish court with “aiding a terrorist organisation” namely the Islamic State.
The court had ordered their arrest pending trial in a move that has caused outrage amongst International human rights groups and journalists
Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, PEN International and the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, have all called for the immediate release of the detained reporters.
Amnsety said in a statement: “It is completely proper that journalists should cover this important story”
“The decision to detain the journalists was wrong, while the allegation of assisting the Islamic State is unsubstantiated, outrageous, and bizarre.”
Vice News has called the charges “baseless and alarmingly false”.
The trio had been in the region filming clashes between police and Kurdish militants, Vice News said.
The Guardian reports:
Correspondent Jake Hanrahan and cameraman Philip Pendlebury, who are British, and their Turkey-based fixer and a driver were taken into police custody on Thursday while working in the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir. They were covering recent clashes between Turkish security forces and the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement, the youth wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). They were charged by the court on Monday.
According to the lawyer representing Hanrahan, Pendlebury and their fixer, who wished to remain unnamed, police acted upon a tipoff by an anonymous caller, who claimed the journalists were “working with the Islamic State”.
“This is an entirely baseless accusation,” lawyer Ahmet Ay said. “And none of the questions asked during their interrogation at the police station had anything to do with Isis. Nobody asked them about ties to the Islamist group.”
He added that the journalists had previously covered conflicts in Ukraine and Iraq.
The driver has since been released, but the three others remain in pre-trial detention. It has not been made clear which terrorist organisation the journalists are accused of aiding.
Kevin Sutcliffe, Vice’s head of news programming in Europe, strongly criticised the arrest of the three men in a statement published on Monday.
“Today the Turkish government has levelled baseless and alarmingly false charges of ‘working on behalf of a terrorist organisation’ against three Vice News reporters, in an attempt to intimidate and censor their coverage,” Sutcliffe said. “Prior to being unjustly detained, these journalists were reporting and documenting the situation in the south-eastern Turkish province of Diyarbakir.
“Vice News condemns in the strongest possible terms the Turkish government’s attempts to silence our reporters who have been providing vital coverage from the region,” he added. “We continue to work with all relevant authorities to expedite the safe release of our three colleagues and friends.”
No trial dates have been set.
Andrew Gardner, Amnesty’s researcher for Turkey accuses the Turkish government of wanting to muzzle all coverage of the violence in the Kurdish south-east
The Guardian continues: “Violence between the PKK and the security forces has been escalating, as have human rights abuses in this context. It’s obviously a story that they government does not want to be told,” he said.
The conflict between the Turkish government and the PKK has recently flared up again, with each side accusing the other of having ended a ceasefire brokered in 2012 as part of a shaky peace process.
Ankara has launched airstrikes against the Kurdish militants, and cracked down on Kurds inside the country. Hundreds have been arrested on terrorism charges, and Kurdish news websites and Twitter accounts have been shut down. Several Turkish journalists who have been covering the issue, such as Mehves Evin who wrote for the daily Milliyet, have since been fired from their newspapers.
Vice News’s head of news programming in Europe, Kevin Sutcliffe, said the Turkish government had levelled “baseless and alarmingly false charges” in an attempt to intimidate and censor its coverage.
Over the past few years, Turkey has gained a reputation as “the world’s biggest jailer of journalists”