Two British journalists and an Iraqi fixer working for Vice News have been charged by a Turkish judge in Diyarbakir of “engaging in terrorist activity” on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Jake Hanrahan, Philip Pendlebury and the Iraqi man were arrested on Thursday in Diyarbakir while filming clashes between the security forces and youth members of the outlawed pro-Kurdish PKK.
All three will now stand trial for being members of a terrorist organisation and will be kept in jail until then. No date has been fixed for their appearance.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Tahir Elci, the head of the Diyarbakir lawyers association, said that a driver who had also been detained with them on Thursday had been released.
In response to the charges, Kevin Sutcliffe, VICE head of news programming for Europe, said the judge “has levelled baseless and alarmingly false charges of ‘working on behalf of a terrorist organisation’ against three VICE News reporters, in an attempt to intimidate and censor their coverage.
“Prior to being unjustly detained, these journalists were reporting and documenting the situation in the southeastern Turkish province of Diyarbakir.
“VICE News condemns in the strongest possible terms the Turkish government’s attempts to silence our reporters who have been providing vital coverage from the region.
“We continue to work with all relevant authorities to expedite the safe release of our three colleagues and friends.”
The journalists’ lawyer told the UK-based rights group Amnesty International that following their arrest the men’s hotel rooms had been searched and their camera equipment and footage impounded by police.
‘Outrageous and bizarre’
In a statement, Amnesty International demanded the immediate release of the journalists.
“It is completely proper that that journalists should cover this important story,” the rights group said.
“The decision to detain the journalists was wrong, while the allegation of assisting [ISIL] is unsubstantiated, outrageous and bizarre.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also called on authorities in Diyarbakir to release the men immediately.
“The renewed clashes between Turkish security forces and Kurdish separatists in the volatile southeast are of public interest to both domestic and international audiences,” the CPJ said.
“Authorities ought to protect, not gag journalists on the job.”
Turkey has been pursuing an air campaign targeting the PKK in northern Iraq and within Turkey.
Officials say the operations against the PKK are a result of the group’s escalating attacks on Turkish targets.
The PKK and the Turkish state were engaged in a war for almost 30 years until a 2013 ceasefire was declared after the two sides engaged in peace talks.
There have been clashes between security forces and protesters in different parts of Turkey following the unravelling of the ceasefire and the beginning of the air campaign.
Follow Umut Uras on Twitter: @Um_uras