New York, September 1, 2016--The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Turkish authorities today to release Lindsey Snell, an American freelance journalist who has been detained since August 7 after traveling to Turkey from Syria, where she said she had been filming.
Turkish border police in Hatay province detained Snell when she crossed into Turkey, the U.S. State Department said during its press briefing yesterday. John Kirby, the department's spokesperson, said Snell is accused of violating a military zone.
Journalists using the border between Turkey and Syria have reported being harassed and detained for short periods by the Turkish authorities in recent years. Turkey has also increased its crackdown on the press after a failed coup plot on July 15.
"We call on Turkish authorities to immediately release Lindsey Snell and allow her to resume her work as a journalist," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "We call on the government to end its harassment of reporters crossing the border from Syria."
Kirby said that consular officers have visited Snell in the city of Adana and "are providing all possible consular assistance."
According to an account Snell posted on her Facebook page on August 5, two days before crossing into Turkey, the militant group Nusra Front held her hostage for nearly two weeks before she said she managed to escape. Snell said in the post that she had been filming in Syria. The Nusra Front, the group she said kidnapped her, changed its name on July 28 to the Levant Conquest Front, claiming it had cut ties with al-Qaeda with the group's permission, the Associated Press reported. Snell is a video journalist whose work, according to her Twitter profile, has featured on media including MSNBC, VICE, and Vocativ. In her Facebook post, Snell said she was taken hostage while filming in Syria. CPJ has not been able to speak with Snell since she first went missing in Syria.
Snell has had a residency permit in Istanbul for the past 18 months and rents an apartment there, her husband, Mohammad Suliman Wardak, told CPJ. Wardak said that authorities detained him for two days after he arrived in Turkey to look for legal support for his wife. He told CPJ he was detained when security forces searched his wife's apartment on August 22, and confiscated her laptop, a computer, a hard disk, video camera, and other electronic equipment.
Wardak said he has been accused of trying to destroy evidence in his wife's apartment, and having ties to the failed July 15 attempted coup in Turkey. Wardak, who denies the allegations, said the claim that he is connected to the failed coup is related to US$1 bills that were found on him. In the aftermath of the failed coup, Turkish authorities said that $1 bills were used to show support for the exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of being behind the plot, according to reports. Wardak said he has been released under judicial control and is banned from leaving the country.
Turkey has renewed its offensive against the press since the failed attempt to topple the government. Since July 15, more than 100 journalists have been detained, more than 100 news outlets have been shut down, dozens of news websites have been blocked, and hundreds of journalists have had press credentials revoked, according to CPJ research. Authorities have also cancelled dozens of passports belonging to Turkish journalists.
- For updates on Turkey's press freedom record, follow the Crackdown Chronicle.
[UPDATE: This alert has been updated to reflect that the full name of Lindsey Snell's husband is Mohammad Suliman Wardak.]