It has now been exactly one month since three journalists working for VICE News were detained while reporting in southeast Turkey. Eleven days after their imprisonment, two of them, Philip Pendlebury and Jake Hanrahan, were released and are now back in the UK. But the third, Mohammed Ismael Rasool, is still in prison, charged with terrorism offenses that appear to be baseless and alarmingly false.
Rasool's ongoing imprisonment has been condemned by international rights and press freedom groups including the Committee to Protect Journalists, Amnesty International, and PEN International, along with dozens of respected writers and journalists.
Below, Rasool's VICE News colleagues recall their experiences working with him.
I first got to know Rasool while in Iraq. We were there at the same time, but in different parts of the country. One of his friends was meant to be working for me, but I was forced to switch fixers at the last minute due to some confusion outside of my control. Rasool's friend was furious.
Later that night, as I felt guilty about having to sidestep his friend due to an internal mishap, Rasool called me up to find out what had happened. I expected a shouting match. Instead, he was calm and understood completely, even joking about the situation. We began to speak regularly after this and became friends.
Within the first few days of being in southeast Turkey together, Phil, Rasool, and I had filmed plenty of great reportage — largely thanks to Rasool. His unmatched negotiating skills had managed to get us the access we needed. I'd set up the contacts and Rasool would charm us all in. Every night when we'd finished work we'd go out to eat — food being one of Rasool's big pleasures in life. He'd always pick the restaurant. "This food is disgusting man!" he'd announce halfway through a perfectly adequate meal. He was always only joking though.
One of the funniest things about Rasool is his faux-arrogance, which he switches on and off. He says outrageous things, as if he's the king of the world, but does it only to get a rise out of you. "Jake, I'm telling you, these people are illiterate," he'd say often, about absolutely anything, slyly grinning. Phil and I, for some reason, began calling him "Razza." Rasool found it funny, but never quite acknowledged it. "You guys are illiterate man," he laughed.
One morning we banged the door of his hotel room to wake him up. He emerged bleary eyed with all the lights on, his phone playing music, the TV at full blast and a podcast playing on his iPod. "Why bang so loud man? I was trying to sleep," he said.
This sums up Rasool. He's outrageous in a way that very few people can be. He uses this to his advantage, staying professional but personable at all times. Cracking jokes inside prison, keeping positive, and giving us pep talks when we couldn't understand a word of what was being shouted at us, showed that Rasool is a true professional. He is one of the kindest people I know. I miss him dearly.
Follow Jake Hanrahan on Twitter: @Jake_Hanrahan
The way Rasool's friends and fellow journalists continue to fight for his release is a testament to him and a reflection of what a great guy he really is. No one has a bad word to say about him. He's smart, charming, and has an amazing ability to get on with pretty much anyone.
Until his wrongful arrest one month ago, Rasool had a bright future ahead of him in Turkey. He weighed up his options as we filmed, trying to decide between a career in academia, journalism, maybe even politics. He speaks a staggering number of languages, and is only one month away from completing a master's degree at a prestigious university in Istanbul.
'He's someone with a real sense of curiosity and adventure.'
I see Rasool as a friend rather than a colleague. In between filming, we spent most of our time arguing about football and talking about girls, usually while smoking an ungodly amount of cigarettes. Usually I've no time for Arsenal fans, but with Rasool I decided to make an exception.
We had some great experiences together in some pretty crazy situations, from Peshmerga bases in Iraq to rooftop parties in Turkey. Regardless of what's going on around him, he's always the same, walking around smiling, socializing, and acting completely unfazed by whatever comes his way. He's someone with a real sense of curiosity and adventure, and I trust him implicitly.
Despite my own release, the sense of injustice I feel toward this situation hasn't changed at all. The idea that Rasool could be left languishing in a Turkish prison under totally bizarre and apparently false charges for months is an absolute travesty. I think most people would agree that someone willing to risk their life to report on stories like those in southeast Turkey, stories that need to be told, should not be punished. Hopefully the Turkish authorities will join us in recognizing that journalism is not a crime and allow us to see our much-loved, sorely-missed friend again very soon.
Follow Phil Pendlebury on Twitter: @pjpendlebury
I first met Rasool when he saved the day for us after we travelled to Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq last summer to make a film. We were having a difficult time getting precise translations for a number of regional dialects when in stepped Rasool, providing the perfect translations in minutes. His ability with languages was just the tip of the iceberg. I have now had the pleasure of working with him as a producer on a number of films.
One of the things I have enjoyed most about working with Rasool is our nighttime conversations. This summer we were making a film with the Peshmerga as they fought the Islamic State (IS) on the edge of Sinjar city. The fighting was heavy, as the Peshmerga positions were sitting ducks for IS forces located in the center of town. After a long, hot day of filming, we would sit together over multiple cups of tea and chat and laugh for hours, telling stories and discussing our dreams and aspirations.
'He is a great journalist, as well as a kind and gentle human being with a fierce intellect — the kind of great mind you could really see changing the world for the better.'
He would impart his vast knowledge and understanding of the region to me, and I was more than happy to sit and listen. We would discuss our girlfriends and what food we would eat when we got home; he told me about a baklava restaurant near his apartment in Istanbul — on Sundays he would jump out of bed and head across the street to buy a massive tray, before spending the rest of the day reading and eating.
He is a great journalist, as well as a kind and gentle human being with a fierce intellect — the kind of great mind you could really see changing the world for the better. As a journalist, he wasn't focused on the military aspects of stories (this gun is called this, that bullet does that, etc…) but was interested in personal human experiences and the effect that conflict has on them. This engagement with people and their stories, often full of suffering, enabled a much greater understanding of the complexities of war. The idea that this brilliant and massively kind human being could be accused of working with IS just seems preposterous — he literally put his life on the line on numerous occasions to report on the atrocities they have committed.
Like other great journalists and people I have met in my life, Rasool has one of those rare sparkles in his eyes; he's full of interest with an inquisitive nature. I cannot believe there is any credible evidence against him, and the sooner the Turkish authorities release him the less harm they will do to their own reputation. I am sure we will drink tea again soon and I will get to see that rare look in my friend's eyes and we can laugh at the ridiculousness of his unjust imprisonment.
Follow Freddie Paxton on Twitter: @freddiepaxton
Rasool (left) and Freddie Paxton as they filmed with the Peshmerga on the frontlines against the IS. (Photo via Aris Roussinos)
Rasool is a rising star in journalism, and his long detention and removal to a high-security prison far from legal representation or family visits has inspired shock and horror in Istanbul's tightly-knit international journalist community, and a sinking fear that intimidation of journalists by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is ratcheting up to crisis level.
If the unfair arrest of the VICE News crew is a warning to the international media to avert its gaze from the growing and bloody conflict in the country's predominantly Kurdish southeast, the continued detention of the team's sole Kurdish journalist after the release of the two British reporters is another worrying omen for the future.
International journalists can only work in conflict zones like southeast Turkey with the support of local staff, who can translate for them and help them safely navigate the complexities of an increasingly dangerous and chaotic region. As a fluent Kurdish- and Turkish-speaker, a resident of Istanbul, and a brilliant product of Turkey's education system, Rasool's academic and journalistic success in Turkey represents the nation's soft power at its best. It will be a tragedy, for Turkey as well as for journalism, if he now becomes an international symbol of Turkey's repression of the free press, languishing in an isolated jail for the crime of doing his job.
'His cause is the cause of all journalists working in Turkey.'
If Erdogan's government is committed to the equal treatment of those under its power in the eyes of the law, it must apply the same international human rights standards to Kurdish journalists as to British ones. As an integral member of the VICE News team, Rasool must not be made a scapegoat by Turkey's politicized judiciary. His cause is the cause of all journalists working in Turkey, and of all those Turks and friends of Turkey worried by the country's dangerous slide towards autocracy and civil war. If the Turkish government wishes to demonstrate its commitment to a free press and international human rights law, it must immediately free Rasool.
Follow Aris Roussinos on Twitter: @arisroussinos
I first met Mohammed — Rasool to his friends — when we reported on the battle between local Peshmerga fighters and IS in his homeland of northern Iraq. Thanks to his charm and warmth, exceptional language skills (fluent in five languages, conversational in at least two others), and unrelenting work ethic, we managed to get an inordinate amount of work done in very little time.
We became quick friends and have since worked together on a number of occasions during my time at VICE News, and spend time together in Istanbul whenever our limited downtime allows.
Rasool is fiercely intelligent and midway through a promising academic career. He has an apparently boundless knowledge of the politics and culture of the Middle East, and if you let him, will argue the finer points of diplomacy for hours at a time. The running debate among our friends here is not if, but exactly how long it will take him to become a head of state.
His personal and professional qualities mean he's in constant demand for work, but Rasool's priority was always his education, and he often talks about the PhD he plans to pursue next year.
Follow John Beck on Twitter: @JM_Beck
Rasool is a superb journalist working in northern Iraq and Turkey. He has spent most of the past two years working for international news outlets that are recognized by the Turkish government and the international community. When my colleagues ask me to recommend a local journalist working in the area, he is the first person I suggest. The assertion that Rasool is part of any terrorist group sounds completely absurd to me.
Sometimes known as "Freddie Mercury," Rasool's sense of humor is a welcome addition to any frontline. I spent two straight weeks in a car with him last year, traversing northern Iraq — enough time in a confined space for anyone to get sick of another person. Yet at the end of it, I was actually looking forward to coming back to Iraq. Furthermore, his sense of empathy is always evident as he reports on tragedies like the displacement of Iraqis by IS.
He is a journalist at the beginning of his career, one I have no doubt will be great. Each day that he and other journalists remain in Turkish prisons for doing their jobs, the Turkish government further tarnishes its international reputation. Let him go.
Follow David Enders on Twitter: @davidjenders
I worked with Rasool in Turkey and on the Syrian border, and he's one of the most brilliant, kind, and hilarious people I've ever met. Simply put, he's a joy to get to know and be around.
Fiercely intelligent, he can break down everything happening in the Middle East better than anyone else I know despite being in his mid-20s. His imprisonment hasn't received as much attention as that of our wrongfully imprisoned British colleagues, and I worry now that his incredibly bright future is in jeopardy, especially as an Iraqi Kurd and journalist.
Follow Danny Gold on Twitter: @DGisSERIOUS