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Turkish Authorities Arrest British Journalists On Terrorism Charges

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's report next on Turkey, a country where it can be difficult to report at all. The arrest of two journalists has called attention to press freedom within this vital U.S. ally. The men are British journalists, a video crew for a U.S.-based company, Vice Media. They were accused of aiding terrorists. Vice says they were actually reporting on ethnic Kurds, who have battled Turkey's government and have been the subject of crackdowns. We start here with Kevin Sutcliffe of Vice Media.

KEVIN SUTCLIFFE: Jake Hanrahan and Phil Pendlebury, two of our young reporter camera team - we sent them off to look around eastern Turkey a part of our ongoing coverage of the overspill of the Syrian conflict.

INSKEEP: Are they staff people for you or freelancers?

SUTCLIFFE: Phil is a staff member, and Jake is a regular freelancer.

INSKEEP: So what was the arrest like, as far as you've been able to learn?

SUTCLIFFE: As far as we can understand, on Thursday night they were out filming disturbances and were picked up by the authorities, detained. As with our security procedures, they were able to alert us that they've been detained.

INSKEEP: I suppose we don't need to get into a lot of detail, but we can mention that it's common for people in dangerous zones like this to have some equivalent of a panic button or some method to call or text someone, and you're saying that's what you had for these guys.

SUTCLIFFE: Yeah. We have a comprehensive risk assessment before any of our teams go anywhere. So we responded quickly, bringing in legal assistance, identifying where they were, identifying who had them. They didn't know that it was the Turkish authorities. They were holding them in a police station in Diyarbakir.

INSKEEP: This is reminding me of occasions that we've heard about in Egypt and elsewhere in the world. You have reporters who are spending time with protesters, and the authorities being to suspect them of being in league with the protesters. Is that what happened here?

SUTCLIFFE: Well, I can't speak for the Turkish authorities. They seem to announce that our reporters were either helping ISIS and helping the PKK. So anybody with even the most cursory knowledge of the region would know that those two groups - you wouldn't be helping them both at the same time, as they are opposed to each other. So that was the first thing that's emerged - a very confusing and, frankly, ludicrous charge. That since has been now reduced, and they are facing a sort of rather vague charge of helping a terrorist organization.

INSKEEP: I'm trying to get a sense if these journalists might have simply been swept up by lower-level police officers in some kind of operation or if you believe that they were targeted for arrest by higher authorities.

SUTCLIFFE: It's very hard to tell at the moment. I think it's fair to say that the Turkish authorities do not have a very good track record on press freedom. And I think at the moment what's happening is this is some sort of message that's being sent about independent reporting.

INSKEEP: You think a message is being sent to other reporters?

SUTCLIFFE: I think so. I mean, these charges are ludicrous - to accuse two English for reporters of being effectively in league with terrorists. It's demonstrably not true, so you've got to ask yourself, well, why is this being persisted with?

INSKEEP: Well, Kevin Sutcliffe of Vice Media, thanks very much.

SUTCLIFFE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.