No sooner did the Turkish government release two British reporters for Vice News, arrested while covering clashes between police and the militant youth wing of the Kurdish PKK party, than they arrested a Dutch reporter working in the Kurdish region of Turkey.
“Frederike Geerdink, a freelance journalist who reports on Kurdish issues, wrote on her Twitter account Sunday that she was taken into custody in the town of Yuksekova,” writes the Kurdish Rudaw news agency. “She added that she was with ‘a human shield group,’ who are all in custody, and that she expected to be questioned by the prosecutor ‘today or tomorrow.’”
Rudaw adds that Geerdink was previously arrested in January on charges of “disseminating terrorist propaganda,” but was acquitted of the charges in April.
According to an AFP report, Geerdink told Dutch broadcaster NOS that she was reporting on a group of activists who were forming “human shields” in an area where Kurdish rebels were battling Turkish security forces. She said she was trapped in the area for two days by military blockades, and arrested after the protest along with the group she was covering, whose members she insists were “not my friends, but my sources.”
Contrary to charges from Turkish authorities, she said the area she was reporting on was not marked as a “forbidden zone” where special permission would have been required for entry.
Geerdink is openly sympathetic to the Kurds – hardly a justification for her treatment by Turkish authorities, of course, but probably one of the reasons she caught their eye. “I have chosen this life and if I want it to be different I can go back to my own country. But for the Kurds, they have not been able to live their identity for more than a century now, being suppressed,” she told the UK Independent in a February interview.
The Independent described the “pro-terrorist propaganda” that got her arrested last January as “supportive comments about the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) on Facebook and Twitter.” The police were also interested in an interview she had conducted with a PKK leader.
At the very same moment Geerdink was facing five years in prison on those “propaganda” charges, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was boasting, “There is no freer press, in Europe or elsewhere in the world, than in Turkey.”
As with the arrest of the Vice News journalists, there are allegations that the Turkish government is using the security situation as a pretext to crack down on both local and international journalists. “The importance of the freedom of the press does not seem to interest this country any more. The situation of Turkish media is worrying, but now foreign journalists can also not do their work,” complained Thomas Bruning, secretary-general of the Dutch Association of Journalists.
Late word from Geerdink’s lawyer is that she was released from custody Tuesday and probably will not be prosecuted.
The Independent reports that Jake Hanrahan and Phil Pendlebury of Vice News are safely back in the UK, but their Iraqi colleague Mohammed Ismael Rasool remains in custody, prompting a statement of concern from the news network.