Turkish court charges Vice News journalists with ‘aiding’ ISIS terrorists

A Turkish court decided Monday to continue holding two Vice News journalists for allegedly “aiding” Islamic State jihadists and Kurdish militants.

British journalists Philip John Pendlebury and Jake Hanrahan and their Turkish translator, Mohammed Ismael Rasool, were arrested on Aug. 27 while reporting from Diyarbakir, Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish region. Initial reports said that they were arrested for reporting without government approval, though some local reporters say that information may be incorrect.

The Diyarbakir area, located in southeast Turkey, has seen clashes between Turkish security forces and members of the Kurdish Workers Party, PKK, which has been involved in periodic armed conflicts with the government for decades. The journalists allegedly interviewed PKK members and Islamic State militants, which local reports said was the reason for their arrest. But the details remain unclear and unconfirmed.

Turkish law allows prosecutors to charge a person with terrorism for not portraying the PKK as a terrorist organization.

“They were detained at a sensitive area for questioning,” a senior Turkish official told Al Jazeera. “It was hard to understand who is what in that particular area where there were security issue going on.”

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The official reportedly said that “if there are no illegal findings about them, it is likely that they will be released.”

A Vice News spokesman said in a statement Friday that the publication was “working closely with the relevant authorities to secure their immediate release.”

A number of human-rights groups have called for the journalists’ release, including Amnesty International, which said their arrest was “wrong” and called claims that they were aiding the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, “unsubstantiated, outrageous, and bizarre.”

“This is yet another example of the Turkish authorities suppressing the reporting of stories that are embarrassing to them. They should release the journalists immediately,” Andrew Gardner, Amnesty’s Turkey researcher, said in a statement.

“The decision to detain the journalists was wrong, while the allegation of assisting Islamic state is unsubstantiated, outrageous and bizarre.”

“It is completely proper that that journalists should cover this important story,” Gardner said. “The decision to detain the journalists was wrong, while the allegation of assisting Islamic State is unsubstantiated, outrageous and bizarre.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists also condemned Hanrahan, Rasool, and Pendlebury’s arrest and said that the need to cover the clashes in Diyarbakir was “of public interest to both domestic and international audiences.”

“We call on Diyarbakir authorities to immediately release Jake Hanrahan, Philip Pendlebury, and their fixer, and allow them to continue working in the region,” Nina Ognianova, CPJ’s program coordinator for Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement. “The renewed clashes between Turkish security forces and Kurdish separatists in the volatile southeast are of public interest to both domestic and international audiences. Authorities ought to protect, not gag journalists on the job.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has tightened his grip on journalists with far-reaching censorship measures. In July, for example, the government censored social media and news reports following a deadly bombing in the city of Suruç. Three months earlier, the government instituted similar censorship on social media.

Efe Kerem Sozeri contributed to this report.

Photo via BijiKurdistan/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Andrew Couts

Andrew Couts

Andrew Couts is the former editor of Layer 8, a section dedicated to the intersection of the Internet and the state—and the gaps in between. Prior to the Daily Dot, Couts served as features editor and features writer for Digital Trends, associate editor of TheWeek.com, and associate editor at Maxim magazine. When he’s not working, Couts can be found hiking with his German shepherds or blasting around on motorcycles.