With a pivotal election coming on Sunday in Turkey, a top government official has claimed that imprisoned VICE News journalist Mohammed Ismael Rasool is directly affiliated with the PKK, a Kurdish militant group that is engaged in an ongoing conflict with the Turkish government.
Turkey's Interim Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu said in a recent CNN interview that there is "clear evidence" that Rasool is linked to the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers' Party, which is classified as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union.
Sinirlioglu provided no evidence to support his claim. The Turkish government previously claimed that Rasool was linked to the Islamic State — a militant group that is a sworn enemy of the PKK. Rasool was one of three VICE News journalists detained by Turkish security forces on August 27 while reporting in the country's southeast.
"Of course there are concerns and people are talking about it, but I'm telling you there is clear evidence that [Rasool] has direct connection to the terror group which is responsible for a lot of terror activities in Turkey," Sinirlioglu said in the October 23 interview. "He is a member of PKK. He is connected to PKK."
VICE News Editor-in-Chief Jason Mojica weighed in on the allegations on Saturday, calling the remark "shocking" and "a blatant disregard for due process."
"Foreign minister Sinirlioglu has essentially convicted our journalist Mohammed Rasool of a crime even though the Turkish government has held him without trial for more than two months," Mojica said.
"These statements are defamatory and false and make a mockery of Turkey's independent judiciary and raise doubts that Rasool can receive a fair trial in this politicized atmosphere," he added.
While British citizens Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendlebury were released on September 3 and have since returned to the UK, Rasool, 25, who is Kurdish, has now been in prison for 65 days. He has not been charged with a crime.
Rasool's detention has been condemned by a number of rights groups, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, Amnesty International, and PEN International. A petition calling for his release has gained more than 40,000 signatures.
Recently, an open letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that included condemnation of Rasool's imprisonment was signed by more than 50 leading international news editors, including Mojica and VICE co-founder Shane Smith. The letter expressed concern that journalists operating in Turkey have increasingly subjected to a "climate of intimidation" in the lead up to Sunday's election.
In recent months, local journalists seen as critical of Erdogan have been fired or assaulted, had their offices raided, and their broadcasts taken off air. Turkish journalists have called this "the biggest crackdown on press in Turkish history."
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Watch Jake Hanrahan Discuss his detention in Turkey, and why Mohammed Rasool must be released: