Reporters Without Borders calls for the immediate release of Dutch reporter Frederike Geerdink, who was arrested in southeastern Turkey yesterday, and urges the government to stop harassing foreign journalists operating in that part of the country.
Foreign reporters are clearly no longer welcome in the southeast, where clashes between government forces and Kurdish rebels led by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) are growing in intensity by the day.
Geerdink was arrested in Yüksekova, a town near the Iranian border in Hakkaria province, while covering a group of Kurdish activists who were also arrested for trying to act as human shields in an attempt to prevent attacks by government forces.
She was reportedly detained for “traveling in a forbidden area.” An official even told Reuters that she had been arrested “for her own safety” because of the fighting in the area.
“Coming just days after the arrests of three VICE News journalists, Frederike Geerdink’s arrest constitutes yet another intimidatory message for the foreign news media, one that is equally unacceptable,” said Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
“Geerdink has worked for years in this part of Turkey and her coverage of the Kurdish issue is widely respected. We urge the authorities to free her at once and to allow her to go back to work.”
Resident since 2006 in Turkey, where she is the only foreign reporter based in Diyarbakir, southeastern Anatolia’s biggest city, Geerdink has written a book and many articles about the Kurds, especially on the website Diken and on her blog, “Kurdish Matters.”
She was briefly arrested in January on a charge of disseminating “PKK propaganda” but was acquitted in a trial in April that Reporters Without Borders attended. The prosecution has nonetheless appealed against her acquittal, so she is still facing the possibility of a sentence of seven and a half years in prison on this charge.
The three VICE News journalists were arrested on 27 August, while covering the situation in southeastern Anatolia, and were placed in pre-trial detention on 31 August on a charge of acting “on behalf of a terrorist organization.”
Two of the three, British reporters Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendlebury, were released on 3 September, but their Iraqi colleague, Mohammed Ismael Rasool, is still held.
The number of violations of freedom of information has soared since the government launched a “war on terrorism” at the end of July in which the PKK is the main target. The peace process initiated in late 2012 with the Kurdish rebels is over and the toll of dead and wounded is mounting.
Turkey is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
(Photo: Ilyas Akengin / AFP)