First hearing in the case of indicted Vice News journalists held in Turkey

His colleagues had started a campaign for journalist Mohammed Ismael Rasool as he was put in jail with the #FreeRasool hashtag.

A first trial hearing was held by the Diyarbakır No.8 High Criminal Court in  Turkey’s southeastern city Diyarbakır in the case of indicted Vice News journalists who were arrested on terrorism charges but later released.

Journalist Mohammed Ismael Rasool, Iraqi Kurdish national testified in the court on Monday that he worked as a translator for Vice News crews when they were covering events in Cizre and Silopi towns. Noting that he came to Turkey to get university degree, Rasool said he started working as a journalist and covered developments on Turkish Syrian border. He said he received offers to work as a translator and fixer because he is good at five foreign languages.

Vice News Reporter Jake Hanrahan and cameraman Philip Pendlebury were arrested on Aug. 28, 2015, in Diyarbakır and released in September. While they were deported from Turkey, their Iraqi-Kurdish fixer, Ismael Rasool, was held in prison until January 2016. The court on Monday lifted travel ban restrictions on Rasool and waived judicial control measures that required him to report to police station on a regular basis.

An indictment by a Diyarbakır prosecutor accuses journalists of membership in a terrorist organization and providing it financial aid. Public prosecutor asks up to 67.5 years for Hanrahan due to his messages on social media in addition to his other alleged crimes, 15 years for Pendlebury and upto 30 years for Rasool.

Hanrahan and Pendlebury did not participate to the proceedings on Monday.

The indictment argues that the two British journalists were trying to “recruit members to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL] and other illegal organizations” and “arrange a suicide bombing against military and police buildings,” according to Turkey’s Evrensel daily.

The contact numbers and names of the people who died in clashes found in the journalists’ notes were entered in the case as evidence.

The fixer Rasool is also accused of receiving his translation fees from Bank Asya, a Turkish lender taken over due to links to the Gülen movement. Rasool said he got his education from Fatih University, a Gülen-linked institution that worked with Bank Asya as customer. He said he had to work with Bank Asya for payments with the university.

He also said he was told during the investigation that his arrest linked to a password-protected document seized from the journalists. “But nobody asked me about the passport for it during the probe. After the arrest, I was summoned to testify. I told them the passport is three space keys”, he said according to a report by Dogan News Agency.

The court also heard the testimony of the driver named Abdurrahman Direkçi who denied any link with any terror group, saying that he had just driven journalists around for a fee.

The case is seen as part of intimidation campaign by Turkish government against foreign journalists who cover developments in Turkey.

On Monday, German daily Die Welt’s Turkey reporter Deniz Yücel, who was detained in Turkey on Feb. 14 as part of an investigation for publishing stories on the leaked emails of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law, who is also Turkey’s Energy Minister, Berat Albayrak, was arrested by a court.

According to a report released by Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) on Jan. 26, 2017, Turkish government has jailed 191 journalists so far and the most of the journalists have not even seen an indictment against them. The report also stated that 92 journalists are wanted for arrest but remain at large either in Turkey or abroad.

SCF has also said that the number of media organizations seized and shut down by the government has reached 189.

Feb. 28, 2017

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