A Turkish court leveled formal charges of terrorism at two VICE News journalists and their colleague on Monday, as global rights groups have called for the reporters to be released.
The two British journalists, Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendlebury, have been detained since late Thursday evening local time in Turkey. The two were taken into custody in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir along with their fixer — a local journalist who serves as a translator and guide — and a driver. The driver has now been released.
Kevin Sutcliffe, VICE's Head of News Programming in Europe, condemned the detention of the journalists in a statement Monday.
"Today the Turkish government has leveled baseless and alarmingly false charges of 'working on behalf of a terrorist organization' against three VICE News reporters, in an attempt to intimidate and censor their coverage," he said. "Prior to being unjustly detained, these journalists were reporting and documenting the situation in the southeastern Turkish province of Diyarbakir.
"VICE News condemns in the strongest possible terms the Turkish government's attempts to silence our reporters who have been providing vital coverage from the region," Sutcliffe added. "We continue to work with all relevant authorities to expedite the safe release of our three colleagues and friends."
Global human rights groups, including Amnesty International, PEN International, and the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), have all joined in calls for the immediate release of the reporters.
"It is completely proper that journalists should cover this important story," Amnesty said in a statement. "The decision to detain the journalists was wrong, while the allegation of assisting the Islamic State is unsubstantiated, outrageous, and bizarre."
The charges come amid a crackdown on free speech in Turkey. Zeynep Oral, president of PEN Turkey, noted that it is becoming increasingly difficult for journalists to work in the country.
"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."
Increased government censorship include efforts to temporarily shut down social media websites like Twitter and YouTube — both mediums widely used during the Arab Spring uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa in 2011. Media suppression has reportedly intensified after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan 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," Maureen Freely, president of English PEN 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."
Despite Turkey's advancing commitment to fighting extremists along with the US-led coalition in the Middle East, it remains hesitant to arm and train Kurdish fighters battling IS along Turkey's border with Syria, fearing they will align with the PKK sectarian group, which Turkey has deemed as a terrorist organization.
Hanrahan and Pendlebury are experienced reporters. Together, they have covered the migrant crisis in Calais, the Scottish referendum, republicanism, and various 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.
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