A court in Turkey’s Kurdish-dominated southeast Monday remanded in custody on terror charges two British journalists working for US-based media outlet Vice News, in a case that has sparked fresh concern about press freedoms.
Vice News condemned the charges as “baseless” and an attempt to censor coverage, while leading rights groups have called for the immediate release of the reporters.
The two British reporters and their translator, an Iraqi national, have been charged with “engaging in terror activity” on behalf of the Islamic State extremist group, the court in Diyarbakir said.
A fourth suspect, their driver, was allowed to go free, an AFP correspondent reported from the court.
The charges also include “intentionally aiding an armed organisation”.
Vice News, an Internet-based channel which produces in-depth video reports, has named the two British journalists in a statement as Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendlebury.
It also said that while sources initially said they were detained for filming without government accreditation, they had then been accused of supporting the IS group.
They have now been taken to a jail in Diyarbakir ahead of an eventual trial. There were no further details on the evidence of their alleged links to IS jihadists.
The reporters were detained last week covering unrest in southeast Turkey which has raged as the government presses a military offensive against Kurdish rebels.
They had earlier been questioned by prosecutors who decided to take the case to court.
The four men, including the driver, had been held in police custody since their detention last week.
Reports said that they were arrested after police, acting on a tip-off, confiscated footage shot during their reporting. All have denied the accusations in the presence of their lawyers.
– ‘Silencing the reporters’ –
“Today, the Turkish government has levelled baseless and alarmingly false charges,” said Kevin Sutcliffe, head of News Programming Europe for Vice News.
He said in a statement that the charges were an “attempt to intimidate and censor their coverage”.
Vice News condemns “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,” he added.
The team had been visiting the region as the government wages a relentless campaign against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants, with several local Kurdish officials arrested and accused of supporting declarations of self rule.
Amnesty International has called for the release of the journalists, describing the accusations against them as “outrageous and bizarre”.
“This is yet another example of the Turkish authorities suppressing the reporting of stories that are embarrassing to them,” said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Turkey Researcher.
There has been growing concern about deteriorating press freedoms on Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and in particular over the numbers of journalists facing legal proceedings on accusations of insulting top officials.
Erdogan caused outrage in the run-up to Turkey’s June 7 elections by saying opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper editor-in-chief Can Dundar would “pay a heavy price” over a front-page story which it said proved Turkey had sent arms to rebels in Syria.
Maureen Freely, president of literary freedom group English PEN, said Erdogan had “gone to extraordinary lengths in recent years to suppress the media.”
“Authorities ought to protect —- not gag —- journalists on the job,” said Nina Ognianova of the Committee to Protect Journalists.