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Turkey jails foreign journalists for first time in 15 years

This statement was originally published on rsf.org on 1 September 2015.

After three days in police custody in the mainly Kurdish southeastern city Diyarbakir, three foreign journalists were placed in pre-trial detention on a terrorism charge late yesterday. This is the first time since 1998 that this has happened to foreign media personnel.

Türkçe / Read in Turkish

The police arrested the three journalists, who include British reporters Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendlebury of VICE News, on the evening of 27 August, searching their hotel rooms and seizing their equipment. They were initially accused of filming without accreditation, before being charged yesterday with working on behalf of a terrorist group.

Reporters Without Borders calls for their immediate release and the dismissal of the absurd charge brought against them, and condemns the fact that the authorities have yet again resorted to Turkey's anti-terrorism legislation to silence journalists covering sensitive stories.

Their lawyer, Ahmet Ay, told Reporters Without Borders that they are charged under article 220 of the criminal code, which penalizes “crimes committed in a terrorist organization's name” in the same way as membership of a terrorist organization.

Little else is so far known about the charges because of the confidential nature of the investigation.

Although Turkish journalists are often placed in pre-trial detention on the flimsiest of evidence, it is extremely rare for foreign journalists to suffer the same fate. When foreign reporters are charged, they are usually released conditionally after a few days in police custody or they are deported.

According to the information available to Reporters Without Borders, the last foreign reporter to be jailed in Turkey was Dino Frisullo, an Italian journalist who was held for several months in 1998.

“By arbitrarily jailing foreign journalists, the Turkish authorities are taking their disregard for media freedom to a new level,” said Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

“This is just the latest of many demonstrations of the draconian nature of Turkey's anti-terrorist legislation. Despite the timid reforms of the past few years, its extremely vague wording allows the authorities to bring arbitrary charges against anyone who bothers them. We demand the immediate release of the three journalists, who were just doing their job by covering story in which there is a great deal of interest.”

Kevin Sutcliffe, head of news programming in Europe for VICE News, said the Turkish authorities had “levelled baseless and alarmingly false charges” against the his journalists “in an attempt to intimidate and censor their coverage.”

The number of violations of freedom of information has soared since the government launched a “war on terrorism” at the end of July in which the PKK is the main target. The peace process initiated in late 2012 with the Kurdish rebels is over and the toll of dead and wounded is mounting.

Turkey is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

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