October 21, 2015
Mohammed Rasool, a VICE journalist, was arrested in August with his colleagues Philip Pendlebury and Jake Hanrahan.

Mohammed Rasool, a VICE journalist, was arrested in August with his colleagues Philip Pendlebury and Jake Hanrahan.

News outlets owned by VICE Media went dark on Wednesday to raise awareness of the plight of journalist Mohammed Rasool, who was jailed by Turkish authorities in August while reporting in the country’s turbulent southeast.

Starting at 10 a.m., every property owned by the sprawling media organization ground to a standstill, replacing their homepages with a plea that the Turkish government release Rasool. Social media accounts operated by VICE Media outlets were slated to circulate the hashtag #FreeRasool and link to a Change.org petition advocating his release.

The blackout is slated to last until noon, according to a VICE spokesperson.

In a video accompanying the campaign, VICE Media co-founder and CEO Shane Smith urged viewers to promote Rasool’s cause on social media, calling charges against his correspondent “completely baseless.”

“The very existence of democracy relies on a free and thriving fourth estate,” Smith said.

Rasool was arrested along with his colleagues Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendlebury at the end of August while covering escalating tensions between authorities and the youth wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, also known as the PKK. Hanrahan and Pendlebury, both British nationals, were subsequently deported, but Rasool has remained imprisoned on charges of “knowingly and willingly” aiding a terrorist organization.

After Hanrahan and Pendlebury’s release, a press freedom advocate warned that the trio’s arrest may have been intended as a forbidding signal from Turkey’s government to foreign journalists seeking to cover the PKK.

With today’s plea, VICE becomes the latest international news organization to use social media to advocate for imprisoned journalists. In 2014, the Qatar-based Al Jazeera circulated the hashtag “#FreeAJStaff” in an attempt to persuade Egyptian authorities to free three correspondents. In September, Baher Mohammed and Mohammed Fahmy were released after nearly two years in custody. Peter Greste, their companion, was deported in February 2015.

Rasool’s continued imprisonment comes during a dangerous period for journalists in general. As of 2014, there were 221 journalists languishing in cells worldwide. In its August assessment of global press freedom, the Committee to Protect Journalists said a combination of terrorism and zealous authorities posed the “biggest threat to journalism in recent times.”

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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