Turkish Police Have a Bad Habit of Harassing Journalists
Cops charge Vice reporters with supporting terrorists
Turkish authorities have arrested three Vice reporters — British citizens Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendlebury along with their Iraqi fixer. They were in Turkey’s Kurdish region covering violent clashes between Turkish security forces and Kurds in the province of Diyabakır. On Aug. 31, police charged the trio with “engaging in terror activity.”
Diyabakır Police told Amnesty International that the journalists had been detained on suspicion of supporting Islamic State. Other outlets report that Turkish authorities accused them of joining the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party. The U.S. State Department and the European Union consider both groups to be terrorist organizations.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve worked with Vice as a freelancer.
Right now it’s still not entirely clear what terror group the reporters are accused of backing — Islamic State, the PKK or both. Human rights groups swiftly condemned the arrest. In a statement, Amnesty International Turkey researcher was scathing in his assessment.
This is yet another example of the Turkish authorities suppressing the reporting of stories that are embarrassing to them. They should release the journalists immediately.
It is completely proper that that journalists should cover this important story. The decision to detain the journalists was wrong, while the allegation of assisting Islamic State is unsubstantiated, outrageous and bizarre.
Journalists have frequently had run-ins with Turkish authorities in the past. Particularly those who’ve covered the Kurds.
In September 2014, Turkish authorities briefly detained War Is Boring videographer Zack Baddorf and journalist Terry Glavin near the Syrian border. The two had been travelling in Kurdish regions and interviewing Yezidi refugees.
However, that interaction wasn’t particularly sinister and was in some ways entirely understandable.
A police informant saw Terry and I — two bearded foreigners — show up just a few kilometers from Syria in a car with Syrian license plates. They thought we might be planning to join ISIS.
And I had been worried about my visa.
It’s not a crazy assumption. The CIA estimates roughly 15,000 foreigners have joined up with ISIS. This includes about 700 extremists from France, more than 500 from Britain, 400 from Germany, 300 from Belgium and 100 from the United States, according to The New York Times.
Police released Baddorf and Glavin without incident.
A month later, War Is Boring reporter Vager Saadullah was on the Turkish-Syrian border covering the battle of Kobani. Kurdish YPG fighters — a group closely affiliated with the PKK — were battling Islamic State fighters in the town while Kurds watched from the Turkey.
The Turkish military stood watch too, preventing PKK fighters in Turkey from joining their comrades in Syria — a major source of tension. Saadullah recounted that the military also stopped Kurdish journalists trying to cross.
A group of Kurdish journalists from Iraqi Kurdistan, here to cover the battle, also tries to cross the border, hoping to get firsthand stories from the front line in Kobani. The Turkish military sends them back, as well. A Turkish army vehicle drives 200 meters behind them, watching them carefully as they walk back.
It should go without saying our experiences pale in comparison to those of dozens of Turkish journalists arrested and jailed in recent years.
The YPG and PKK have long accused Turkish authorities of disrupting their efforts to fight Islamic State, but Iraqi Kurdish leaders did pressure Ankara into allowing their Peshmerga troops to travel through Turkey to aid YPG forces in Kobani for a brief period of time. However, Ankara did little to support the Kurds as the Sunni extremist group besieged the city, and refused to let coalition aircraft use Turkish airfields.
When the Turkish military finally began bombing Islamic State in June 2015, it also began bombing PKK and YPG forces in Syria and even Iraq. Despite the fact that those Kurdish factions are battling Islamic State — and many Yezidi refugees credited the Kurdish militants with saving them from genocide — Turkish officials have tried to characterize the Kurdish guerrillas as being morally equivalent to Islamic State.
By extension, Ankara seems determined to label anyone associated with Kurdish separatists a threat, including journalists attempting to report their side of the story. Turkish authorities in Diyarbakir also arrested journalist Frederike Geerdink earlier this year and accused her of “making propaganda for a terrorist organisation.”
A local court acquitted her in April, but the case remains pending on appeal.