Turkish authorities blocked a group of press freedom advocacy organizations from visiting imprisoned VICE News journalist Mohammed Ismael Rasool in jail Wednesday.
A delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists, along with several other journalist advocacy groups, is currently in Turkey on an emergency mission in response to the increasing government crackdown on press freedom in the country. The delegation submitted a request a week ago to see Rasool while in Turkey, but only received the denial Wednesday, on the last day of the trip, according to CPJ's Europe and Central Asia coordinator Nina Ognianova.
Turkey's General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Houses, a division of the Justice Department, did not give a reason for the denial. The response was written in Turkish and only cited an article in the Turkish legal code which stipulated that anyone seeking to visit a prisoner must obtain prior permission from the General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Houses.
"So they basically said we have to get permission from the same institution that rejected us," said Ognianova.
Along with CPJ, the mission included representatives from the International Press Institute, Reporters Without Borders, Article 19, and a local Turkish press freedom organization.
Rasool has been in Turkish prison for nearly two months, after being detained along with two other VICE News journalists while they were reporting in southeastern Turkey in September. The three men were charged with working for a terrorist organization — a totally false charge with absolutely no basis — and jailed. The two other journalists, Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendlebury, both from the UK, were released September 3. Rasool, however, remains in custody.
Today all of VICE's websites went on self-imposed blackout for two hours to bring attention to Rasool's imprisonment and call for his release. VICE, in conjunction with CPJ, also launched a petition calling on Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to release Rasool. The petition has more than 10,000 signatures as of Wednesday.
Turkey's refusal to grant international nonprofit groups permission to visit Rasool, and his ongoing imprisonment, "is raising a lot of questions and suspicion and worry as to what are the grounds for this and what are they trying to figure out he did wrong," said Ognianova. "We haven't seen any evidence."