American says he faces deportation from Turkey for reports on Kurdish conflict

By Suzan Fraser, AP
Tuesday, August 17, 2010

American faces deportation from Turkey

ANKARA, Turkey — An American detained for allegedly collaborating with Kurdish militants said Tuesday he was being targeted because of his writings about the war between Turkey and the guerrillas.

Turkish authorities detained the 25-year-old Jake Hess, of Hampton, New Hampshire, in a hotel in the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir last week, months after his name appeared in a prosecutor’s indictment against a group of Kurdish activists who have been charged with links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

A public prosecutor ordered Hess deported after questioning him for three-hours Sunday, though it was not clear when that might happen. He now shares a room with five asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Iraq at a detention center for foreigners in Diyarbakir, and is free to use his mobile phone.

Kurdish rebels are fighting for autonomy in Turkey’s southeast. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people since 1984. The PKK is considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union.

Hess, who has visited PKK bases in northern Iraq, wrote two articles critical of Turkish treatment of Kurds for the news agency of Rome-based Inter Press Service, which covers development, the environment and human rights issues. Its website says it changed its legal status in 1994 to that of a “non-profit, international non-governmental organization.”

Authorities questioned him on the content of his articles, Hess said.

“I was told that I was harming Turkey’s image, that I was waging a smear campaign against Turkey,” he told The Associated Press during a phone interview from his cell. “I have no doubt that I am being targeted for my writings.”

Turkish officials have not commented on the case and no one answered calls at the Diyarbakir chief prosecutor’s office Tuesday. The U.S. Embassy had no comment.

Hess said he developed an interest in the Kurdish conflict while at high school when he was involved in an Amnesty International campaign to free Kurdish politician Leyla Zana, who spent a decade in prison convicted of separatism and links to the PKK.

He arrived in Turkey nearly two years ago to teach English at a language school in Diyarbakir and worked as a translator for activist groups.

Hess’ lawyer, Serkan Akbas, said the American was detained for his alleged ties to Kurdish activists who are accused of membership in the Kurdistan Democratic Confederation — a group, prosecutors say, is an offshoot of the PKK. The activists have denied the claims, and the indictment does not make any accusations against Hess.

Hess said that despite the indictment he had traveled freely in and out of Turkey, until his two articles appeared in July and early August.

“The timing is a little curious,” he said.

In an Aug. 13 statement, Reporters Without Borders called for Hess’ immediate release.

“Detaining a journalist should be an exceptional measure resulting from a thorough investigation establishing that he has committed a serious crime,” the media rights group said.

Sanjay Suri, editor-in-chief of the Inter Press Service agency, said they had made inquiries to Turkish authorities but have not received an official statement.

In a July 13 article — “Turks let Kurdish forests burn,” — Hess wrote that residents of two Kurdish villages in Turkey were facing “economic disaster and possibly displacement as Turkish soldiers set fire to their forests and crops.”

Turkish authorities have denied such claims. Turkey systematically burned and forced the Kurdish villages to evacuate to cut supplies to Kurdish rebels in the early 1990s but abandoned the practice in the face of severe international criticism.

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