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Global Rights Groups Call for Turkey to Release Detained VICE News Journalists

Amnesty International, PEN International, and the Committee for the Protection of Journalists have condemned the detention of four VICE News journalists by authorities in southeastern Turkey.
August 30, 2015, 7:25pm
Image via EPA

Global rights groups have issued calls seeking the immediate release of four journalists working for VICE News who have been detained in Turkey since Thursday without being charged.

Turkish authorities took British journalists Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendlebury into custody while they were reporting with two other colleagues — a fixer and a driver — in the city of Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey.

While security sources initially said the journalists were being detained for filming without government accreditation, they have since been accused of supporting the so-called Islamic State (IS). The journalists are expected to appear in court on Monday.

Authorities also seized camera equipment that belonged to the journalists, and searched their hotel rooms.

Amnesty International, PEN International, and the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) have all condemned the detentions.

In a statement, Amnesty International called the allegations put forth by Turkish authorities "bizarre."

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

Amnesty calls for release of three journalists working for VICE in Turkey — AmnestyUK Media Team (@NewsFromAmnesty)August 29, 2015

Nina Ognianova, the coordinator of the CPJ's Europe and Central Asia program, called on the Diyarbakir authorities to immediately release Hanrahan, Pendlebury, and their colleagues.

"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," Ognianova said.

CPJ calls for the release of VICE News reporters, fixer, in Diyarbakir, Turkey - — CPJ (@pressfreedom)August 28, 2015

Zeynep Oral, president of PEN Turkey, noted that it is becoming increasingly difficult for journalists to work in Turkey. "In a period of uncertainty, both in the country and in the region, we are in the greatest need of freedom of expression and the right to know," Oral said. "We ask for justice and the immediate release of journalists doing their jobs."

Maureen Freely, president of English PEN, noted that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has "gone to extraordinary lengths in recent years to suppress the media."

"Since his party failed to win a majority in the June election, [Erdogan] has intensified his efforts to crush all critical coverage, but most particularly coverage of the escalating conflicts in the predominantly Kurdish southeast," Freely said. "His aim, as always, is to control the story. If these journalists are left to languish in prison, he will have had his way."

PEN calls for immediate release of — English PEN (@englishpen)August 30, 2015

Suzanne Nossel, director of the PEN American Center, added, "When the going gets rough, governments signal their insecurity by jailing journalists who are covering stories they don't want told. Targeting reputable journalists from VICE marks a new low for Turkey. They should be released immediately and unconditionally."

A VICE News spokesperson said the journalists will "face unsubstantiated charges of terrorism" when they appear in court on Monday.

"VICE News continues to work vigorously with all relevant authorities to secure the safe release of our four colleagues," the spokesperson said.

Hanrahan and Pendlebury are experienced reporters. Together, they have covered the migrant crisis in Calais, the Scottish independence referendum, republicanism in Ireland, and other stories.

Besides his work for VICE News, Hanrahan has written for the Guardian, the Independent, Wired, and Rolling Stone Middle East. Pendlebury is an accomplished cameraman and editor who has filmed in Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, and other countries.

Follow VICE News on Twitter: @vicenews