There seems to be no end in sight for the imprisonment of Mohammed Ismael Rasool, a journalist for UK-based VICE News who was detained over 100 days ago while reporting in Turkey and charged with terrorism offenses but is yet to be presented with an indictment, reports Today’s Zaman.
Rasool and his two colleagues, Philip Pendlebury and Jake Hanrahan, were detained on Aug. 28 whilst reporting in Turkey’s southeastern city of Diyarbakır; however, Rasool is still in prison despite his colleagues being released 11 days after their imprisonment. The trio was reporting on the increasingly bloody conflict between Turkey and the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the Southeast of Turkey.
Journalists have come under increased obstructions while reporting from the region, with the escalation of violence between the PKK and the security forces since July 20 effectively ending a three-year cease-fire.
The trio had been represented by prominent human rights lawyer Tahir Elci, who was shot dead in on Nov. 28 immediately after conducting a press conference calling for peace between Turkey and the PKK. “We don’t want guns, clashes or operations in this region,” were Elçi’s last words before he was killed in the Sur neighborhood of Diyarbakır.
Rasool was acting as VICE News’ fixer — usually a local national with responsibilities such as booking interviews or driving a car for an international reporter — at the time of his detainment.
In an article for VICE in September, Hanrahan described the moment when he and Pendlebury were forced to leave Rasool behind: “I wrapped my arms around Rasool and promised him that no matter what, we would fight until he was released. Phil did the same. ‘Get me out of here guys,’ Rasool said as we were led away.”
Many international press groups have criticized Rasool’s detainment. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) joined VICE in September a few days after Rasool’s plea for release was rejected “to call on the Turkish authorities for a swift end to this unjust detainment and to grant his immediate release.” A petition by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) calling on the Turkish authorities to release Rasool was started on the online petition site change.org and has attracted over 85,000 signatures, with 25,000 signatures coming in the first 24 hours.
A September open letter saw dozens of prominent writers and journalists plead with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to allow the release of Rasool. The open letter by English PEN, a UK-based journalists’ and writers’ association, was signed by the like of Monica Ali, Elif Shafak, Hanif Kureishi and Ali Smith.
AI: “Questioned as a journalist…”
Andrew Gardner of Amnesty International (AI) told Today’s Zaman on Monday: “We looked into this case in detail. Mohammed Rasool and the other two journalists were detained and then questioned about their activities as journalists. There is nothing about their activities that they were questioned over which could be described as ‘assisting an illegal organization,’ which is what they are charged with.”
“There is a long history of using anti-terror laws in Turkey to prosecute dissenting voices, including journalists, which has come to prominence again after the resurgence of violence between the PKK and the state forces in July this year,” Gardner, AI’s researcher on Turkey, said.
“The use of such extended pre-trial detention in this apparently baseless prosecution is especially abhorrent. The renewed use of unjustified, extended pre-trial detention, seen in this and other cases is an important part of the problem. It contributes to the ever worsening of the state of media freedom and freedom of expression in Turkey,” he added.
“Rasool is caught in a state of limbo. Turkish authorities say they’re still investigating — an investigation that has gone on for one hundred days with no progress or end in sight. And things are getting worse,” wrote Hanrahan in his article for VICE on Saturday.
There are now around 30 journalists in prison in Turkey. This number includes but is not limited to Ali Konar, Erdal Süsem, Erol Zavar, Ferhat Çiftçi, Gurbet Çakar, Hamit Dilbahar, Hatice Dunman, Kamuran Sunbat, Kenan Karavil, Mikail Barut, MikdatAlgül, Mustafa Gök, Tahsin Sağaltıcı, Nuri Yeşil, Sami Tunca, Sevcan Atak, Seyithan Akyüz, Sahabattin Demir, YılmazKahraman, Özgür Amed, Cevheri Güven, Murat Capan, İdris Yılmaz and Vildan Atmaca.
On Dec. 14, the headquarters of Zaman daily and Samanyolu Broadcasting Corporation in İstanbul were raided as part of a crackdown on dissenting media by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party).
Hidayet Karaca, the CEO of Samanyolu, was arrested after the raids, along with a total of 31 suspects including Zaman’s then-Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı. Dumanlı was released on Dec. 19 while Karaca has been in jail for 358 days.
Likewise, Bugün daily columnist Gültekin Avcı, a former public prosecutor, was arrested on Sept. 18 on charges of membership of a terrorist organization based on exposes he had written about the Iran-backed Tawhid Salam spy ring. Seven of Avcı’s columns were submitted as evidence for his alleged crimes. Tawhid Salam is a terrorist organization recognized as such by the Supreme Court of Appeals in 2002, 2006 and 2014.
Similarly, Mehmet Baransu, a journalist for the Taraf daily, was arrested in March on charges of publishing classified documents from a 2004 National Security Council (MGK) meeting. In the meeting, council members had discussed an action plan targeting the Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement, a global civil society organization inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.
The latest victims of recurrent blows to media freedoms in Turkey were Cumhuriyet daily Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar and the paper’s Ankara representative Erdem Gül. The duo were arrested on Nov. 26 on charges of membership of a terror organization and espionage upon a complaint lodged personally by Erdoğan for reporting on trucks belonging to Turkish intelligence that were allegedly carrying weapons to radical groups in Syria.
The charges could see them convicted to life in prison.
In a bid to ease growing concerns about dwindling press freedom in Turkey, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told CNN International’s Christiane Amanpour that freedom of the press and intellectual freedoms were something he would never intrude on. “When I was an academic in the 1990s, I was also working as a columnist. So freedom of the press and intellectual freedom are red lines for me,” Davutoğlu said live on the program on Nov. 9.
“If there’s an attack on any intellectual or columnist or journalist, I will defend them. I can guarantee this,” he added.
CHP: “400 people on ‘insulting’ list”
A question submitted to the Parliament Speaker’s Office on Tuesday by main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Sezgin Tanrıkulu indicated that there are requests to initiate investigations into 400 people on charges of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that are awaiting approval from the Justice Ministry.
Giving details of a recent workshop organized by the Ankara Bar Association titled “Unconstitutionality of charging people with insulting the president and suggestions for solution,” Tanrıkulu said more than 1,500 people had been sued by Erdoğan on libel charges and 400 more investigations are awaiting approval from the Justice Ministry.
Directing his questions to the Justice Ministry, Tanrıkulu queried the number of demands to investigate people over libel charges against President Erdoğan as of Dec.7. “How many of these demands are rejected and how many of them are approved?” Tanrıkulu also asked.
Tanrıkulu also asked about the number of investigation applications to the Justice Ministry for insulting presidents from 2002 to 2015 covering the terms of former presidents Abdullah Gül and Ahmet Necdet Sezer.
Underlining that there are people who express their views about the president via the Internet, Tanrıkulu questioned the number of people facing investigations because of their views on social media. He also asked about the number of people facing trials in court on charges of insulting the president.
Tanrıkulu noted that cases in court against people charged with “insulting the president” constitute a large workload for the judiciary and asked whether the ministry has any plans to lighten this workload.
Tanrıkulu also underlined that a large portion of society believes charges against people over “insulting the president” is a method of intimidating political opponents.
At a press conference on Saturday, Tanrıkulu said according to a recent human rights report, hundreds of people have been charged and others detained after being accused of insulting Erdoğan since he was elected president in August 2014. In the past 10 months, 98 people have been taken into custody on charges of insulting the president, Tanrıkulu said.