Vice Media goes dark for journalist jailed in Turkey
Oct. 21, 2015
ISTANBUL (AP) — Vice Media carried out a two-hour blackout on its websites Wednesday to call attention to an Iraqi Kurdish journalist who has been held in Turkish jails without charges since being arrested while working for the news organization.
Mohammed Rasool has been in jail for nearly eight weeks. He was detained while serving as a fixer for two British journalists for Vice News covering the conflict in Turkey's Kurdish southeast. On Wednesday, Vice News' parent group was directing all of its digital sites to a petition addressed to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that calls for Rasool's release.
Rasool's detention comes amid a spike in prosecutions and violence against journalists in Turkey that international media watchdogs are calling an emergency. On Wednesday a delegation of eight media freedom organizations said they had come to Turkey as part of an "emergency press freedom mission." They said that pressure on journalists had increased since the country held parliamentary elections in June. The country will hold repeat elections Nov. 1 because the major parties could not form a governing coalition.
In an indication of their concern, the media advocates call their coordinated visit "unprecedented." The groups include the Vienna-based International Press Institute and the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
On Tuesday, Turkish Justice Minister Kenan Ipek defended the Turkish government's treatment of journalists, asserting that nearly all of the dozens of people jailed who call themselves journalists don't have press cards.
"Their crimes are terrorism, robbery, theft and other crimes," he said.
In a press conference, the visiting journalist advocates cited a spate of cases in which prosecutors have charged journalists with anti-terrorism laws and laws against insulting the president. Dozens of people, including some journalists, have been prosecuted or charged under the previously seldom-used law that bars insults to the president.
The groups also spotlighted recent violence and threats against journalists and news organizations, including the recent beating of Ahmet Hakan, a columnist for the Turkish daily Hurriyet. Last month, Hurriyet's headquarter was vandalized by a mob following verbal attacks on the newspaper by Erdogan.
Turkey has also come under criticism for periodic shutdowns of social media and for imposing a ban on coverage of the aftermath and investigation of the Oct. 10 suicide bombings at a peace rally in the capital Ankara that killed 102 people.
"We decided to conduct a visit to Turkey at this time because of our extreme concern," IPI's director of advocacy, Steven Ellis said in Istanbul.
Other members of the delegation said that Rasool's case had contributed to chill reporting on sensitive issues, including the recent violence in the southeast. CPJ helped Vice organize the petition linked during today's blackout. In a statement, CPJ executive director, Joel Simon called Rasool's case "a tremendous injustice."
"It is also a reminder of the essential role of media support staff, the fixers, stringers, translators and drivers who risk their lives to bring us the news," he said.
Rasool, who marked his 25th birthday on Tuesday, was arrested Aug. 27 along with Vice's Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendlebury. The three journalists had traveled to towns along Turkey's border with Iraq, the center of renewed violence between Kurdish militants and government forces.
Hanrahan and Pendlebury were released 11 days later, but Rasool has remained in a high-security jail. Turkish authorities have neither indicted him nor adequately explained why they are holding him. His case is being conducted under a secrecy order, so his lawyers don't have access to the files against him, they say. Some colleagues and friends have seen him, but the interactions have been limited.
Vice, which calls itself a youth media company, says it is setting the blackout at peak viewing time so that millions will see the petition and video on Rasool. Vice says its sites get 100 million unique visitors per month.
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On Twitter: Desmond Butler at https://twitter.com/desmondbutler