ANKARA, Turkey – Two Vice News journalists who were arrested in Turkey on terror-related charges have been released from jail, a Turkish government official said Thursday. Their assistant will remain jailed pending the conclusion of an investigation.
The two British journalists, correspondent Jake Hanrahan and cameraman Philip Pendlebury, were detained last week in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s mostly Kurdish southeast, after filming in a neighbourhood where Kurdish youths frequently clash with Turkish security forces. Also detained was their Turkey-based assistant and translator, Mohammed Ismael Rasool.
The arrests prompted strong protests from media rights advocates, the U.S. and the European Union.
A government official told The Associated Press that Hanrahan and Pendlebury were freed on Thursday but the official did not know if they would be allowed to leave Turkey or were required to remain in the country pending trial. The state-run Anadolu Agency said the court agreed to a petition for the two British journalists to be released pending trial but ruled that Rasool remain in custody.
A lawyer representing the journalists could not immediately be reached for comment. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with Turkish government rules that bar government officials from speaking to journalists without prior authorization
Vice News welcomed the releases but called on Turkish authorities to free Rasool as well.
“While we are grateful that they have been freed, we are deeply worried by reports that our other Vice News colleague, Mohammed Ismael Rasool, has had his appeal of release rejected by the Turkish government,” Vice News said in a statement. “We call on the Turkish authorities for a swift end to this unjust detainment and to grant his immediate release.”
Rasool is a Kurdish Iraqi national who moved to Turkey to attend college. In addition to working with Vice News, he has worked in recent years as a freelance assistant and translator for journalists from a number of media organizations, including the AP and Al-Jazeera.
There has been confusion over the charges levelled at the journalists, and a lawyer has said the exact accusations won’t be known until the prosecutor submits an indictment.
Court officials had initially said the three were detained for filming without first obtaining media accreditation from authorities. The court later accused them of vague charges of helping armed groups, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and its youth wing, and accused Rasool of having encryption software on his computer.
All three have rejected the accusations.
The news of their release came a day after the journalists were transferred to a high-security prison in Adana more than 500 kilometres (300 miles) away from their lawyers and the courthouse in Diyarbakir where they face trial.
Vice News is a New York-based news channel that produces documentaries, breaking news reports and investigative pieces.
Tahir Elci, who heads the Diyarbakir lawyers association, has denounced the detentions as a government attempt to deter foreign media from reporting on the conflict with Kurdish rebels. Scores of people – soldiers, police, rebels and civilians – have died since July in renewed fighting between Kurdish rebels and Turkey’s security forces. The simmering unrest and violence in the area has derailed a 2 1/2-year-old peace process.