Last Thursday, Turkish authorities arrested two British journalists working for VICE News, Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendlebury, along with their assistant Mohammed Ismael Rasool, an Iraqi based in Turkey, and a driver who was working for them at the time of their arrest.
The journalists were working on a story about the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its ongoing clash with the Turkish government. Specifically, they were filming a battle between police and the exceptionally militant youth wing of the PKK. The local city court charged them with aiding a terrorist organization, as the PKK is officially designated—although it seems the court was more interested in accusing the reporters of working for ISIS… or maybe both ISIS and the PKK at the same time, according the network’s interpretation of the Turkish court’s accusations.
The UK Guardian reported that the allegations “centered on encryption software found on Rasool’s computer, which the Turkish authorities believe to be similar to that used by the Islamic State militants.”
The central Turkish government has taken some pains to distance itself from the arrests and expressed displeasure at the actions of local officials. VICE News denounced the charges as “baseless and alarmingly false” and considered the incident an “attempt to intimidate and censor” news coverage.
“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,” said head of news programming Kevin Sutcliffe, citing support from human-rights groups including Amnesty International, PEN Intenrational, and the Committee for the Protection of Journalists. VICE was among many local and international critics to accuse the Turkish government—at every level—of using fears about Kurdish separatism, ISIS terrorism, and other threats as an excuse to crack down on free speech.
Amnesty International said it was “completely proper” for journalists to cover the clashes between Turkish police and militants and described the allegation that Hanrahan, Pendlebury, and Rasool were trying to help the Islamic State as “unsubstantiated, outrageous, and bizarre.”
On Wednesday, the British government issued a statement through the Foreign Office expressing concern about the journalists’ imprisonment:
Respect for freedom of expression and the right of media to operate without restriction are fundamental in any democratic society. Turkey is a state party to the European Convention on Human Rights and UN Declaration of Human Rights. We would expect the Turkish authorities to uphold the obligations enshrined in those agreements.
Thursday, a week after the reporters were arrested, VICE News reported confirmation from the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office that Hanrahan and Pendlebury had been released from Turkish prison.
“While we are grateful that they have been freed, we are deeply worried by reports that our other VICE News colleague, Mohammed Ismael Rasool, has had his appeal of release rejected by the Turkish government,” VICE declared. “Rasool is an experienced journalist and translator who has worked extensively across the Middle East with VICE News, Associated Press, and Al Jazeera. We call on the Turkish authorities for a swift end to this unjust detainment and to grant his immediate release.”
The driver who was arrested along with the trio of journalists was released without charges some time ago, according to the UK Guardian, which reports Hanrahan and Pendlebury are being deported from Turkey. Rasool is still under questioning and is expected “to be freed and well soon,” according to the lawyer representing all three.