IFJ and EFJ urge Turkey to release two UK journalists facing terror charges

UPDATE: A court in southeastern Turkey on 3 September ordered their release. The official explanation by the court over why they were charged has yet to be published, media reported. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) have backed their affiliate in Great Britain and Ireland, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), in urging the Turkish authorities to immediately release British journalists Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendlebury. The reporters, who work for US-based media outlet Vice News, were yesterday accused of terror charges following their arrest last week in Diyarbakir province of Turkey on allegations of connection with the so-called Islamic State (IS). “Our colleagues who are currently detained in Turkey must be released immediately and unconditionally. They are not terrorists – they are journalists and should not be treated as criminals,” said NUJ general secretary, Michelle Stanistreet. "The NUJ continues to be alarmed at the scale of attacks against press freedom in Turkey - a member of the Council of Europe and the government should abide by article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights on freedom of expression”. One of the detained journalists is an NUJ member, the union said. The two organisations suspect the authorities are seeking to intimidate journalists who are covering the current clampdown on pro-Kurdish militants, following the recent escalation in violent attacks in the country. “The charges against our British colleagues working for Vice News are unsubstantiated as it makes no sense why professional journalists would collude with terrorist organisations and the authorities have not shown any evidence so far to suggest the alleged connection with the IS,” said IFJ President, Jim Boumelha. “These arrests are more about the government’s ploy to muzzle journalists covering annoying issues. Their detention is unwarranted and we call for their immediate release so they can continue reporting on the ground with no intimidation, nor undue interference.” According to media reports, a court in Turkey’s Kurdish-dominated southeast yesterday remanded both reporters in custody following charges brought against them by Turkish prosecutors for “engaging in terror activity” on behalf of the so-called Islamic State group “intentionally aiding an armed organisation”, reports said.  Vice News, an online channel which produces in-depth video reports, said that journalists Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendlebury were arrested on August 27 while filming clashes between the security forces and youth members of the outlawed pro-Kurdish PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) in the southeastern Turkish province of Diyarkabir. The reporters have been held in police custody since their detention and are now in a jail in Diyarbakir, awaiting an eventual trial but no date has been fixed. Reports added that there were no further details on the evidence of their alleged links to IS group and the journalists have denied the accusations. The EFJ, which has campaigned against the abuse of anti-terror legislation in Turkey to restrict press freedom, is concerned that these arrests herald a new clampdown on independent reporting during the military offensive against PKK rebels. “There is every reason to fear that the Turkish government is, once again, resorting to anti-terror and national security laws to silence critical journalists covering sensitive issues such as opposition to the regime, whether political or military, “ added EFJ President Mogens Blicher Bjerregård. “Those journalists are not preaching terrorism. They are just doing their job and we call on Turkish authorities to follow international standards in the application of national security laws, invoking Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the right to seek, receive, and impart information." The IFJ and the EFJ will submit this case to the Council of Europe’s digital platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety for journalists. The IFJ, the EFJ and their affiliate, the Journalist Union of Turkey (TGS), will organise next 17-18 September in Istanbul an international conference on press freedom and labour rights called “Fighting for journalists rights and freedoms in a politically polarized country”.

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