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US journalist detained in southeast Turkey over coverage of Kurdish issue

Accused of collaboration: Jake Hess, a 2007 Suffolk University graduate, moved to Turkey two years ago as a human rights activist. Photo: The Boston Globe / Chris Caesar

Jake Hess, an American freelance journalist who writes for Inter Press Service (IPS), was arrested on August 11 in the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, in southeastern Turkey, and is currently being held at the headquarters of the city’s anti-terrorist unit. Accused of links with the Union of Kurdistan Communities (KSK), a new organisation that is alleged to be an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Hess could be deported or placed in pre-trial detention, according to Paris-based press freedom group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF).

Hess’s lawyer, Serkan Akbas, told RSF he was arrested at around 5:45 p.m. on August 11 as part of an investigation into the KCK. He said Hess’s name appears in an indictment prepared by the Diyarbakir prosecutor’s office. It accuses him of frequenting the local office of the Human Rights Association (IHD) and acting as an interpreter for the IHD office and for delegations visiting Diyarbakir.

Akbas said he did not think that the investigation into the KCK was the real reason for Hess’s arrest as he has never been summoned or questioned in the past in connection any proceedings against the KCK. The real reason had to be the articles he has written for IPS about the region’s deliberately-started forest fires, the depopulation of Kurdish villages and Turkish air strikes on homes in northern Iraq, he said.

The trial of 150 alleged KCK members is due to start in Diyarbakir on October 18. The defendants include Ahmet Birsin, the editor-in-chief of Diyarbakir-based Gün TV. If the prosecutor’s office decides to include Hess in this case, he could spend the next month and a half in pre-trial detention.
The pro-Kurdish news agency Diha (Tiger), said Hess had helped the IHD in Diyarbakir but the IHD insisted that he had spent time at its office simply because he was a journalist.

The news agency DHA (Dogan) said that Hess’s name had appeared in letters sent to European government officials and that he had provided information to the US authorities. It also said that he had worked with Muharrem Erbey, the former head of the IHD’s Diyarbakir branch, who was jailed on December 24, 2009 in connection with his political activity.

“Detaining a journalist should be an exceptional measure resulting from a thorough investigation establishing that he has committed a serious crime,” RSF said. “We call for Hess’s immediate release. Neither placing him in pre-trial detention nor deporting him are appropriate solutions.

“Journalists who investigate sensitive subjects such as the Kurdish issue in Turkey are required to get in touch with all the parties involved. That should not be regarded as a crime. The Turkish authorities should be more transparent in their handling of this case and should avoid confusing journalists with what they cover.” It said, “Kurdish media and journalists who cover the consequences of Turkish policy towards the Kurds are too often the target of harassment, which the authorities clumsily try to justify as a necessary part of their efforts to combat terrorism.”

"Jake Hess is a legitimate journalist and the mere appearance of his name in KCK documents is not grounds for detention, prosecution, or deportation," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, Middle East and North Africa programme coordinator for New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). "We call on Turkish authorities to immediately release Hess and not hinder his reporting."

Sanjay Suri, the Inter Press Service's editor-in-chief, confirmed that Hess is a contributor and told CPJ that his "pieces have been on rights for Kurds within areas of Turkey and northern Iraq." Suri told CPJ that Hess is due to appear before a judge on Saturday.

Date posted: August 16, 2010 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 231