Three VICE News journalists were detained in Turkey on August 27, while reporting in the country's southeast, and charged with working for a terrorist organization — an entirely baseless and absurd accusation.
While Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendlebury were released on September 3 and have since returned to the UK, everyone at VICE News remains extremely concerned for our third colleague, Mohammed Ismael Rasool, who is still being held.
We call on the Turkish authorities to continue their positive course of action in freeing Jake and Philip, and release Rasool immediately.
* * *
"Do you know what I miss most?" Rasool said as he lay on a mattress in the corner of the cell. "My Pinterest account."
Phil and I burst out laughing. There we were, wrongly accused, stretched out on rancid mattresses in the middle of a Turkish terror prison, and all Rasool could think about was his Pinterest account. It made it all the more funny that he pronounces it "P-Interest." He refused to believe us when we told him the proper pronunciation.
"I'm serious," he continued. "I have all these different sections with pictures of food and scenery from where I've been in the world. If I travel to Uzbekistan or somewhere for work, and I see a beautiful tree, I will find a picture of it later and add it to my Pinterest account."
* * *
Rasool's beloved Pinterest account is loaded with beautiful imagery because he's an incredible freelance journalist, as well as a great fixer and translator. He's managed to travel the length and breadth of the Middle East at the age of just 24 — working for VICE News, the Associated Press, and Al Jazeera — by using these talents. He is close to completing a Masters degree in international relations, which is now at risk of never being finished.
Sadly, he's an Arsenal [soccer club] fan, but other than this Rasool is a normal guy who works hard and has a broad range of contacts due to his reporting. This, bizarrely, now seems to be reason enough for the Turkish government to accuse him of being an "agent" of some kind. As he said himself that afternoon on the dirty mattresses: "They have absolutely no evidence."
'Get me out here guys,' Rasool said as we were led away.
Later on, I sat hunched over, playing the terrifying scenarios of what might turn out be our future in my head. I was tense. I bit at my nails constantly. Rasool noticed. He always noticed.
"Relax bro," he said. "We've done nothing wrong. We'll be out of here soon. We're just journalists trying to make a living."
* * *
Rasool was right, we had done nothing wrong, but still we were rotting away in a Turkish "F-Type" high-security anti-terror prison. The guards told us on the way in that it was an "ISIS prison." The graffiti scrawled on the walls and the cacophony of "Allahu Akbar" screamed across the grounds at night seemed to confirm this.
We'd been charged with terrorism offenses a week earlier, when the police arrested us outside our hotel in Diyarbakir. We'd been working for a few days in the southeast, reporting on the current conflict between the Turkish state and the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The fighting has claimed hundreds of lives in the space of six weeks. Much of the violence is being carried out by the PKK's youth wing, the YDG-H.
Before we were detained we'd already witnessed dozens of armed teenagers roaming the streets of Cizre, and had come under fire in Silopi when masked youths tried to take us on a patrol of the areas they supposedly controlled. We'd also met a 13-year-old girl who'd caught three stray bullets in her neck, her ribs, and her back, when fighting broke out between the YDG-H and the police. As journalists, we thought it important to report on this spiraling violence and the civilians who live among it and are being terrorized by both sides.
We were detained for doing our jobs and hit with bizarre accusations about being agents of the Islamic State — a group we weren't even reporting on. After four days in a solitary confinement cell in police custody, a prosecutor sent us to this sweltering and filthy high-security prison in Adana, over five hours drive away.
Without warning, our cell door swung open. Two guards pointed at Phil and I and said a few words in Turkish.
"What are they saying?" I asked Rasool.
Rasool paused. His face dropped. "You two are free to go," he replied.
It took a second to process. Both Phil and I were being released, but Rasool was being forced to stay in prison. My heart sank. It was unfair. The whole thing was unfair, but this was a particular stake to the heart.
"Wait a minute," Phil said to the guards. They were having none of it. We had to leave at once.
I wrapped my arms around Rasool and promised him that no matter what, we would fight until he was released. Phil did the same.
"Get me out here guys," Rasool said as we were led away.
* * *
Phil and I are now back in the UK. VICE News went into action to get us released and managed to get us out with as few scratches as possible. While we're very happy to be back with our families and eternally grateful to be home, now is not a time to celebrate.
Mohammed Ismael Rasool, our dear friend and colleague, is still locked up in that Adana prison for a crime he hasn't committed.
Follow Jake Hanrahan on Twitter: @Jake_Hanrahan