Court orders arrest pending trial of three journalists, including two Britons, covering conflict in country’s south-east

Published by The Guardian on Septembre 1, 2015


A street in the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir after clashes between the security forces and the youth wing of the PKK. The detained reporters had been covering the conflict. Photograph: Cihan / Barcroft Media

A Turkish court has charged three journalists working with Vice News with “aiding a terrorist organisation” and ordered their arrest pending trial in a move that has caused indignation and outrage amongst journalists and international human rights groups.

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.

Several human rights groups, including Amnesty International, PEN International and the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, all called for the immediate release of the detained reporters.

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

Amnesty also warned that the arrest of the Vice journalists was another alarming case of the arbitrary use of Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws.

“The detention and prosecution of the journalists smack of a blatant case of punishing legitimate journalism using anti-terrorism laws,” said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty’s researcher for Turkey.

“The authorities have long used anti-terrorism laws to suppress dissent and target journalists, but journalists from Turkey have borne the brunt of this repression. The fact that international journalists have been targeted is a sign of further deterioration.”

Gardner also accused the Turkish government of wanting to muzzle all coverage of the spiralling violence in the Kurdish south-east, where accusations of excessive police violence, police killings of civilians and ill-treatment of detainees have increased in recent weeks.

“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.

Turkey has gained a reputation as “the world’s biggest jailer of journalists” in recent years.