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Exclusive: Why Turkey Arrested Two Foreign Journalists

Two British reporters for VICE news, and their translator, have been charged as supporters of Kurdish group PKK, though they were first accused of being pro-ISIS.

VICE News correspondent Jake Hanrahan and cameraman Philip Pendlebury
VICE News correspondent Jake Hanrahan and cameraman Philip Pendlebury
Ismail Saymaz

DIYARBAKIR VICE News correspondent Jake Hanrahan, cameraman Philip Pendlebury and their local guide and translator Mohamed Ismail Rasool were detained in Diyarbakir, Turkey last Thursday. On Monday, the local Turkish court issued official charges of "aiding an armed organization." Now as criticism mounts from press freedom activists inside and outside of Turkey,Radikal has exclusive new details on the case.

The three men were detained after a phone call by an anonymous informant to the police accusing the news team of being pro-ISIS. However, they were later accused of backing the PKK (the Kurdish separatist group that Ankara considers terrorists) because they had conducted video interviews with members of YDG-H, the youth branch of PKK. The journalists told investigators that they were recording scenes of life in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, which included masked people with guns. They denied having any ties to either ISIS or PKK.

The court, however, chose to order their arrest, determining there is "reasonable doubt" as to their guilt.

The unidentified informant called the police on Aug. 27 and said: "Four people arrived at the Hilton. They are staying there. Two of them are British citizens," according to documents obtained by Radikal. "They are speaking to ISIS members. They are trying to help arrange supporters and suicide bombers for bombing attacks of military facilities or police stations. Do not ask me questions."

Diyarbakir police detained the three with their driver at the Hilton that night on suspicion of "taking action in the name of the terrorist organization ISIS." However, all the subsequent questions they were asked were about the PKK.

Hanrahan, 25, testified that they came to Istanbul from London on Aug. 22 and went first to towns of Mardin and Cizre in southeastern Turkey. "Our goal for going to Cizre was to report on the domestic disturbance and to shoot a documentary about how the citizens live there," he said.

Hanrahan said they moved to Diyarbakır on Aug. 25. "We started filming the living conditions and lifestyles of the people in the town center and in locations we do not exactly know. There were people who have covered their faces and carried guns. We recorded them on camera. I do not have any connections to ISIS or PKK. I do not know the people whom we recorded."

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In Diyarbakir — Photo: MikaelF

Dark times

Hanrahan was asked why he had written the acronym "PKK," together with notes on the organization and its leader Abdullah Öcalan, in his confiscated notebook. He said,"I am a reporter. I have to know the organization, their leaders and goals for the story I am working on." He was also questioned about a phone number he had to contact the YDG-H members.

Pendlebury, 29, was questioned about the recordings on his camera which included visuals of armed YDG-H members, interviews with these people, visuals of streets where trenches were dug to keep the security forces away and pictures of Molotov Cocktails and homemade explosives.

"I travel to zones where there is chaos and war, like Syria, Iraq, Ukraine and Afghanistan under direction of my company to record the lifestyles of the people who live there," Pendlebury said. "I came to Turkey with this same objective. I recorded the masked people with my camera because I am a war journalist."

Rasool said he works as a translator for the two journalists.

The four suspects were transferred to the Diyarbakir 2nd Court of Penal Peace after the questioning by the prosecutor led to Judge Hamza Türker issuing formal charges of "knowingly and willingly aiding an armed organization despite not being featured in its hierarchy."

Tahir Elçi, a lawyer for the journalists and head of the Diyarbakir Bar Association, said: "It's the first time since 1993 that two journalists are arrested like this. The two claims — being supporters for ISIS and aiding the YDG-H — are inconsistent," he told Radikal. "Intelligence agencies or the police may have been disturbed by their journalistic activities. This arrest is a result of the resumption of armed clashes on July 21 between Turkish and Kurdish forces, especially as seen as a means of intimidation for the international media to block it from covering the area. This is a sign of a dark period."

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