Update: A Vice spokesperson confirmed that journalist Mohammed Rasool, arrested on charges that he and two other journalists were "deliberately aiding an armed organization" while reporting in Turkey, has been released on bail. Rasool spent 131 days in a Turkish prison aftter authorities alleged that Rasool, an Iraqi fixer working in Turkey, was using encryption software the government also believes is used by the Islamic State group. Rasool was arrested with Vice News correspondent Jake Hanrahan and cameraman Philip Pendlebury on August 27 while covering the conflict between government forces and the the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement, according to Vice. "Rasool is now looking forward to being reunited with his family, friends and colleagues, who ask for his privacy to be respected during this time," Vice's spokesperson added.
This story was originally published on September 3, 2015 at 12:00 p.m.
Two Vice News journalists have been freed from jail in Turkey after being arrested on charges that they were "deliberately aiding an armed organization." Their Turkey-based Iraqi fixer, Mohammed Ismael Rasool, remains in jail after his appeal for release was denied on Thursday, lawyers for the journalists told Al Jazeera English. Authorities allege Rasool was using an encryption software that is also used by the Islamic State group — a charge both he and Vice News deny, his lawyer told Al Jazeera. "Rasool is an experienced journalist and translator who has worked extensively across the Middle East with Vice News, the Associated Press, and Al Jazeera," Vice News' Jake Goldman told Refinery29 in a statement. "We call on the Turkish authorities for a swift end to this unjust detainment and to grant his immediate release." Authorities arrested correspondent Jake Hanrahan, cameraman Philip Pendlebury, Rasool, and their driver on August 27 in Diyarbakir, a city in southeast Turkey. The Guardian reports that an anonymous caller alleged the reporters were "working with the Islamic State" group, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Their driver was later released without being charged. Vice News said Hanrahan, Pendlebury, and Rasool were in Diyarbakir covering the conflict between government forces and the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement, a subset of Turkey's outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The day before his arrest, Hanrahan tweeted about his work.
The arrests of the Vice News team come on the heels of the conviction of three Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt. Mohamed Fahmy of Canada, Peter Greste of Australia, and Baher Mohamed of Egypt were found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison on Saturday on charges that they aided a terrorist group. The trial was widely condemned around the world. Greste, who was sentenced in absentia after being deported back to Australia from Egypt in February, told Refinery29 he is "absolutely devastated" by the verdict. "I know what going back to prison means for those guys, and what it means for their families. It's incredibly tough for all of them. It breaks my heart to know what they and their families are facing," Greste said. Both Fahmy and Mohamed tweeted after the verdict against them was read on Saturday.
Greste, Fahmy, and Mohamed spent more than 400 days in a Cairo prison after authorities raided their hotel just before Christmas in December 2013. Like the Vice reporters, Fahmy, Greste, and Mohamed, as well as other Al Jazeera journalists charged in absentia, were accused of colluding with terrorists — in this case, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. "While I don't know many of the precise details of what happened [to the Vice News team] in Turkey, what offends me generally is how governments are using the War on Terror as an excuse to target journalists who speak to opposition groups or political groups that a government dislikes or feels threatened by," Greste said. "What bothers me is a trend right now, around the world, in which freedom of speech is being eroded in very certain ways, under the cloak of national security." Mohamed's wife, Gehan, gave birth to their third child while her husband was jailed. She took to social media to continue to demand his release.
Greste said the next step is for the team to appeal to Egypt's military leader, Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi, to pardon the reporters. Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who is representing Fahmy, has said she would seek a pardon from Sisi. "This is the most high-profile case of a Canadian abroad being imprisoned on sham charges," Clooney told CBC. "It's a dangerous precedent being set. It's a journalist who's going to prison for no reason." Greste said the verdict against the Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt will have a chilling effect on reporters around the world. "Nobody wants to be in our position, so it will be very difficult for other journalists to work without self-censorship," Greste said. "The only conclusion you could come to was that the verdict was politically motivated. It was intended to intimidate the press, and it will inevitably have that effect...It's hard to see how journalists could do this [work] with any integrity if they run the risk of prison and being branded as supporters of terrorism."
According to Reporters Without Borders' 2015 World Press Freedom Index, both Egypt and Turkey have abysmal records on press freedom. Egypt ranks 158 out of 180 countries in the world, and Turkey ranks 149. Johann Bihr, a specialist on issues relating to Turkey's media from Reporters Without Borders (RSF), told Refinery29 that the repressive Turkish government is carried over partially from the 1990s, when the military presided. Today, the current president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is non-military, though he controls the press with an iron fist. Shutdowns of YouTube and Twitter are frequent — if the Turkish government identifies content they consider criminal on either site, the companies are given four hours to remove it, or be blocked. "The Internet appeared as a kind of asylum for the public to get objective information, and the increasing control of the Internet, which has been visible over the past few years, now threatens this space of free information and free debate," Bihr told Refinery29. Bihr noted that while Turkey does have a pluralistic press, it is one that is under constant scrutiny and often overshadowed by Erdoğan-endorsed outlets. "This case bears all the characteristics of something which is systematic in Turkey: the abuse of anti-terror law for silencing critics," Bihr said. "The accusations and charges brought against the Vice reporters and their fixer sound totally absurd and out of any proportion."
Greste said that press freedom must be vigorously defended. "Around the world, generally, the media gets a rough ride. There isn't an enormous amount of respect for journalists and journalism," Greste said. "What our case has demonstrated is how important a free press is." "What I would like people to take away from this is how imporant a free, properly functioning press really is to democracies everywhere," he continues. We need to protect it and we need to stand up for it, and we can't allow press freedom to be eroded in the face of the nebulous, imprecise goal of national security unless there is a clear imperative to do so. The emphasis must be on defending that principle of press freedom." To show solidarity with the Vice News and Al Jazeera teams, social media users — including Refinery29 — are using the hashtag #JournalismIsNotACrime. Al Jazeera has also made this video advocating for press freedom around the world.