Turkey should drop terrorism charges against detained VICE crew

September 1, 2015

H.E. Ahmet Davutoğlu
Prime Minister of the Republic of Turkey
Vekaletler Caddesi Başbakanlık Merkez Bina
P.K. 06573, Kızılay, Ankara

Via Osman Sert, press adviser to the Prime Ministry
Via Prime Ministry’s Press Office

Dear Prime Minister Davutoğlu,

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent international press freedom organization, is writing to express its concern about recent charges leveled against two British journalists and a local fixer who were detained while reporting from the southeastern Turkish province of Diyarbakir.

Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendlebury, two journalists for the U.S.-based global news channel VICE News, and a fixer, were detained by police in Balgar district on Thursday while covering renewed clashes between Turkish security forces and separatists with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), according to news reports. On Friday, the Turkish daily Hürriyet reported that the journalists were being held at the Diyarbakır Police General Directorate and questioned by anti-terrorism police. They are now being held at Diyarbakır D Type Prison, local news reports said. According to news reports, a fourth individual, a Turkish driver, was also detained but has been released.

On Monday, the journalists were charged with “aiding a terrorist organization,” according to news reports and VICE News‘ Kevin Sutcliffe, head of news program for Europe. It was not immediately clear what group the journalists are accused of assisting, but some news reports cited the court and police as saying that they were detained for allegedly assisting the militant group Islamic State. Sutliffe denied the charges, which he said were an “attempt to intimidate and censor their coverage.”

Turkish authorities have not disclosed what evidence of wrongdoing justifies the charges. Ahmed Ay, a lawyer for the VICE News journalists, told CPJ on Monday that he could not disclose any case details because the investigation had been ordered secret.

CPJ research shows that broadly worded anti-terror and penal code statutes have allowed Turkish authorities to conflate the coverage of banned groups and investigation of sensitive topics with outright terrorism or other anti-state activity. The PKK has been classified as a terrorist organization, and journalists seeking to cover PKK activities have often been imprisoned or obstructed, CPJ research shows.

Your Excellency, VICE News journalists Jake Hanrahan, Philip Pendlebury, and their fixer, were providing badly needed coverage of current events in southeastern Turkey, which are of interest not only to domestic but also to international audiences. Reporting on sensitive issues, including talking to a variety of news sources, is not a crime and such coverage must never be equated with criminal activity.

In October 2014, I was part of a CPJ delegation that met with you and other senior Turkish officials. We appreciated the opportunity to discuss our press freedom concerns, including the broad application of Turkey’s sweeping anti-terror law. During that meeting, you invited us to contact you directly about any physical or legal threats that journalists face in the country. We are taking this opportunity to do so, and while we recognize the separation of powers in Turkey, we believe that the detention of the journalists from VICE News has far-ranging implications that impact Turkish society and its foreign policy.

We therefore ask that you give this issue your immediate attention and do all that you can to ensure that these journalists are released and allowed to continue their vitally important work.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We look forward to your response.


Joel Simon
CPJ Executive Director

CC List:

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President of Turkey

Osman Sert, Prime Ministry Press Adviser

Lutfullah Göktas, Chief Media Adviser to the President of Turkey

Sandra Mims Rowe, CPJ Board Chairman

Serdar Kılıç, Turkey’s Ambassador to the United States

Richard Moore, British Ambassador to Turkey

Federica Mogherini, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy

Donald Franciszek Tusk, President of the European Council

Stavros Lambrinidis, EU Special Representative for Human Rights

Günther Hermann Oettinger, European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society

Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament

Elmar Brok, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament

Elena Valenciano, Chair of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights

David Kaye, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression

Dunja Mijatović, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media

Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights