A Belgian television network was threatened by the government after a reporter asked the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a question about Mohammed Ismael Rasool, the VICE News journalist who has now been imprisoned in Turkey for seven weeks.
A video published at the weekend by the RTBF station — for which Rasool also worked while in Turkey and Iraq — shows a reporter shouting a question in the direction of Erdogan as he walks towards his car. "Mr. Erdogan — why is Mohammed Rasool still in prison in Turkey?" she says, as the Turkish leader looks over before disappearing into his vehicle.
Rasool was detained in Turkey on August 27, while reporting in the country's southeast with VICE News colleagues Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendlebury, and charged with working for a terrorist organization — an entirely baseless and absurd accusation.
While Hanrahan and Pendlebury were released on September 3 and have since returned to the UK, everyone at VICE News remains extremely concerned for Rasool and calls on the Turkish authorities to release him immediately. The campaign to free him has attracted international attention.
A voiceover on the RTBF video explains that the encounter followed a press conference during an official visit to Belgium by Erdogan earlier this month, at which journalists had not been permitted to ask questions.
Immediately afterward, a Turkish embassy official reprimands a representative of Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel for having let the journalist ask the question.
The Belgian government representative then tells RTBF, which is still filming, that it is not allowed to film and that she will complain to the director of the station. Michel's communications director Frédéric Cauderlier then takes the journalists aside and threatens them, telling them that if the footage is aired, "we have a grave situation" and that there will be "consequences."
François Mazure, the host-editor of the Belgian television show 7 à la Une, which published the video, said although there was a typical "love/hate relationship" between the press and the government in Belgium, the station had been surprised by how the government had reacted.
"The tone of the Belgian government spokesperson this time was really harsh," Mazure said. "The prime minister reprimanded his spokesperson, because our video got massive attention in Belgium. We had 400,000 views — which is huge for a small country like Belgium."
Michel later told a Belgian news agency he had told off Cauderlier for using "unacceptable words" towards RTBF.
"Rasool is part of the RTBF family," Mazure added. "We are all very concerned about the destiny of Mohammed. He is a true professional, always efficient and neutral. We were his employer, so we really do care about his fate."