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Turkey: Arrested Vice Journalists Had Video Interviews of PKK Members

Turkish state media is confirming that three Vice News journalists, arrested on “terrorism” charges in the Middle Eastern nation, had ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), possessing footage of members of the group making molotov cocktails while being interviewed. Turkey has moved the journalists to a facility five hours away from their legal representation.

Journalists Philip Gingell Hanrahan and Philip John Pendlebury, along with translator Mohammed Ismael Rasool, were arrested last week on vague charges of aiding terrorism, which were initially reported as charges of collaborating with the Islamic State terrorist group. Anadolu Agency, Turkey’s state outlet, however, is now reporting that the evidence found on the persons of those arrested indicates they had connections within the PKK, as they were reporting in a PKK stronghold on tensions between the Marxist terrorist group and the Islamist government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Specifically, Anadolu is reporting that the men were carrying notebooks with “the abbreviations and English translations of organizations linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK),” as well as video footage of interviews with PKK members and footage of them building molotov cocktails and arming themselves to attack Turkish police.

Anadolu notes the defense of the journalists, which was not enough for the Turkish court to free them. The journalists noted that, in order to report on tensions between the PKK and the government, they needed to research and learn the way the PKK operates, hence the notebook with all the names and abbreviations. The footage, they argued, was legitimate journalistic material, as it told the story of news happening in the country, which they were paid to cover.

The argument failed to persuade the Turkish government, which has officially charged them with “knowingly and willfully helping armed terrorist organization without being a part of its hierarchical structure.” Anadolu notes, however, that police found plenty of evidence that the group of journalists was not only working to report on the PKK, but on a number of armed groups in the region to tell the greater story of sectarian tensions in Turkey:

Police also found in the room a diary that allegedly contained information about the organizational structure, activities and members of the PKK, and its affiliate, Kurdish Communities Union (KCK); as well as information about the group’s jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan, and other terrorist organizations, including the far-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), and the outlawed militant Turkish Communist Party – Marxist-Leninist (TKP/ML), which is a far-left organization carrying out illegal activities and armed attacks aimed at establishing Marxist-Leninist rule in the country.

Notably absent from this list is the Islamic State.

Vice News has released an update on the three men, whose remand by the court has resulted in distancing them significantly from their legal counsel. The journalists are now in “a high-security ‘F-type’ prison facility more than five hours away from where their legal representation is based, and from the court where they are due to appear.” This threatens to make the development of a successful legal strategy nearly impossible, despite the near unanimous support the men have received from the international community that their work in Turkey is legitimate journalism. Prior to this transfer, their attorney, Ahmet Ay, had told media the government had kept his team in the dark regarding details as essential as which terror organization his clients had allegedly aided.

“This move appears to be a blatant obstruction of the fair legal process that Turkey has repeatedly pledged to uphold,” Kevin Sutcliffe, Vice’s Head of News Programming Europe, said of the transfer, adding, “We call on the Turkish government to throw out these ridiculous charges and immediately release our colleagues.”

Vice has greatly expanded its coverage of terrorist groups in recent years, developing extensive reports on the Islamic State, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and Chechen separatist groups in Russia.

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