US Journalist to Be Deported From Turkey

LONDON – Jake Hess, a U.S. freelance journalist who also wrote for IPS on Kurdish rights within Turkey, is to be deported following a government order.

“I’m waiting to be sent back to the U.S,” says Hess, who is a U.S. citizen.

Jake Hess was taken into custody by Turkish anti-terror police on Aug. 11 from a hotel in Diyarbakir, a Kurdish-dominated area in southeastern Turkey where he had been staying. He was kept under detention and interrogated over three days. His deportation was ordered Sunday.

“The police claimed that I have contacts with the PKK,” says Hess. The PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) is a separatist group listed as a terrorist organization by Turkish authorities, as well as the U.S., the EU, the United Nations, and several other countries.

Since the beginning of this year military staff have been killed by suspected PKK militants on a weekly basis, either in the Diyarbakir region or in areas remote from the conflict areas, including Istanbul.

“Through the interrogation, the authorities also said I’m running a smear campaign against the Turkish Republic,” Hess told IPS. The deportation order said Jake Hess has been “taking orders from a terrorist organization.”

Hess says he was interrogated at length over links with the PKK. His name figures in indictment papers in a much-publicized trial of Kurdish leaders and other public figures accused of supporting the PKK. But Hess is not among the accused in that case.

According to the indictment papers, Hess voluntarily interpreted for the Human Rights Association’s Diyarbakir branch during the visits of some foreign delegations, and he also translated some letters and articles issued by HRA to the media and to international organizations in October 2009. Hess speaks fluent Turkish and has a degree of proficiency also in Kurdish.

But while Hess seems to have been under watch over such work, “much of the interrogation focused on the IPS articles,” he says. Jake Hess wrote three reports on Kurdish issues for IPS this year.

The deportation, he said, “is a move to silence the international media and to prevent the international community from learning about the situation here. It is also a move to intimidate local people, and to discourage them from speaking to international media.”

The arrest, he said, points to “the bigger picture where innocent people have been targeted for years.” According to some reports, about 1,600 Kurdish activists have been taken into custody, but more conservative estimates have put that number at 840. Some have been held now for up to 18 months without trial, according to local reports.

Hess has clarified that there was no undue pressure on him through detention. “It was not a five-star hotel, but the facilities were not the worst,” he says.

To report on the Kurdish dispute is to touch a raw nerve in Turkey. It comes ahead of a referendum due Sept. 12 on a new constitution proposed by the government. The outcome of this referendum will affect the balance of power between the government on the one hand and the military-judicial bloc on the other. Nationalist tendencies are on the rise, and conflicting parties may be using a case such as that of Jake Hess to score a point.

The Turkish government has been making sustained efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue by offering new rights to Kurdish people, while standing firm against separatist demands and militancy to that end. Opinion polls indicate that the vast majority of Turkish people are seeking strong action against the PKK and allied groups.

Deportation is seen as a mild step. A Turkish journalist in a similar position could face up to three years imprisonment.

The Ankara Head Office and the Diyarbakir Regional Office of the Directorate General of Press and Information of the Prime Minister’s Office were unable to give more information, on the grounds that this was a matter the police was dealing with. The local office clarified that Jake Hess had been held at the Foreigners Section of the Diyarbakir Police Headquarters.

At the U.S. embassy, officials said that there were “privacy issues” and that Hess had requested that no details be disclosed about his deportation.

(Inter Press Service)