Reporters working for VICE News in Southeast Turkey were set to appear in court Monday to face accusations of terrorism -- charges that the international media company says are unsubstantiated.
A VICE spokesman said no formal charges have been brought against the journalists yet, according to industry website Poynter.
The news crew was reporting in the city of Diyarbakir, a predominantly Kurdish region, when they were arrested Friday for lack of proper government accreditation, security sources told Reuters.
British citizens Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendlebury are part of the crew, along with a translator and a fixer. They were reporting on escalating tensions between local authorities and the pro-Kurd Workers’ Party.
The four were reportedly accused by Turkish authorities of having links to the Islamic State group, according to Amnesty International. They were also accused of "close contact with Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants," according to Reuters. Their arrest has been condemned by rights groups and watchdogs.
“It is completely proper that journalists should cover this important story. The decision to detain the journalists was wrong, while the allegation of assisting Islamic state is unsubstantiated, outrageous and bizarre,” Andrew Gardner, Turkey researcher for Amnesty International, said in a Friday statement.
“This is yet another example of the Turkish authorities suppressing the reporting of stories that are embarrassing to them. They should release the journalists immediately.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists also condemned the imprisonment, citing the newsworthiness and legitimacy of the VICE crew’s activities. "The renewed clashes between Turkish security forces and Kurdish separatists in the volatile southeast are of public interest to both domestic and international audiences. Authorities ought to protect, not gag journalists on the job," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said in a statement.
In February, freelance international reporter Frederike Geerdink was also indicted for “making propaganda” that supported to the PKK. She was acquitted in April, but her case remains pending on appeal.
A ceasefire between Ankara and the outlawed PKK ended in July after a spate of attacks and bombings from both sides, prompting the PKK to declare that the ceasefire had “lost its meaning.”
In response, Turkey launched an aggressive air bombing campaign against Kurdish groups in Iraq and Turkey, while also promising to begin bombing ISIS. However, U.S. military officials and rights activists have accused Turkey of using their anti-ISIS campaign as a cover to persecute the Kurds.
“It’s clear that ISIL (ISIS) was a hook,” an unnamed senior U.S. military official told the Wall Street Journal earlier this month. “Turkey wanted to move against the PKK, but it needed a hook.”