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British journalists charged with 'terrorist offences' in Turkey

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By Alasdair Sandford  with REUTERS, HURRIYET
British journalists charged with 'terrorist offences' in Turkey

Two British journalists and their translator have been formally charged by a Turkish court with terrorist offences, in a case that is raising more concern among human rights groups about press freedom in the country.

Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendelbury of Vice News, and the translator, a local journalist, were arrested last week in Diyarbakir.

They had been in the southeast filming clashes between Kurdish militants and the police.

Their lawyer said when he saw them, they asked him why they had been detained. They denied any wrongdoing.

“I told them they were detained after a tip-off,” the lawyer, Poyraz Oral, said.

A fourth man, the group’s driver, was reportedly allowed to go free.

In a statement, the Diyarbakir chief prosecutor said: “Although the suspects were not involved in the terrorist organisation’s hierarchy, it was decided that they were arrested for helping the organisation willingly”.

Security sources told Reuters the three were in close contact with the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). On his Twitter feed last week, Hanrahan posted photos which he said had been taken in an area of the southeast under the control of the PKK’s youth arm.

Reports say the journalists had been questioned about alleged links to two organisations, the PKK and the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIL).

Amnesty International has called that particular accusation ‘unsubstantiated, outrageous and bizarre’.

Several human rights groups and freedom of speech campaigners including Amnesty, PEN International and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have called for the journalists’ release.

Vice News, an internet-based channel which aims to cover under-reported international stories, has accused the Turkish government of trying to silence its reporters who it said had been “providing vital coverage from the region”.

The organisation’s head of news programming for Europe, Kevin Sutcliffe, described the charges as “baseless and alarmingly false”.

The fragile peace process between Ankara and the PKK begun by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2012 has fallen apart over the past month as the government resumed airstrikes on PKK camps in northern Iraq and Kurdish insurgents struck police and military targets.

Critics worry that press freedom will be one casualty of the fighting. The government recently accused the BBC of giving ‘overt support to terrorism’ via one of its broadcasts.

The country has a record of detaining journalists and sits near the bottom of international press freedom tables. The European Union, which Turkey aspires to join, has said harassment of the press violates its human rights criteria.