THE sister of a Wigan photo-journalist facing terrorism charges in a Turkish jail says his family have been maintaining a vigil by the phone awaiting news of his plight.
Phil Pendlebury was part of a VICE News team arrested by police while filming hostilities in the south of the country and accused, bizarrely, of collaborating with the hated Islamic State.
The experienced cameraman, who will celebrate his 29th birthday in a jail cell on Friday, is reported to be “bearing up well.”
Sibling Alex Pendlebury today said that family - including mum Heather and former Wigan RL player dad John - were remaining positive as politicians, diplomats and human rights groups crusaded for his and two colleagues’ release.
Their main concern at present is that he wrongly fears his loved ones back home believe there is some truth to the charges: accusations that Amnesty International, among others, has branded “baseless and outrageous.”
Alex today said she and her family couldn’t be more delighted at the printed, broadcast and social media coverage of Whitley lad Phil’s plight and that of correspondent Jake Hanrahan and Turkey-based Iraqi translator and journalist Mohammed Ismael Rasool. She fully endorsed the Wigan Evening Post and wigantoday website’s campaign for the trio’s immediate release.
What upsets us most is the possibility that Phil wrongly thinks we fear he has been locked up for a good reason, but we know he’s not done anything wrongAlex Pendlebury
The men were arrested last Thursday and it was VICE News chiefs who rang the Pendleburys the following day to let them know what had happened.
Alex, 23, said: “On Friday night I got picked up from the train station and my dad gave me a look that said that something was wrong. He said Phil had been arrested in Turkey. We thought it was for not having the correct documents at first but then these allegations of terrorist connections came through.
“The VICE boss Matt was very reassuring and telling us it was going to be OK. Needless to say we were in shock. You hear about things like this happening to other people on the news but never to someone so close to home. VICE said that they would keep us informed with updates, and they have.
“From Friday to Monday we stayed in the house. We thought it was all going to blow over so we did not tell anyone so as not to cause unnecessary alarm. But when it wasn’t resolved after the weekend we realised we would have to tell people and that was hard, especially telling our grandparents.
“But there has not been much else we can do. We have let VICE, who have been excellent, take the lead. If going to London or Turkey would help in any way we would but we have been told it wouldn’t serve any purpose at present. We would not be able to go into court or see Phil in prison, so we are awaiting instructions.
“We hear he is holding up OK. They are not stressed and sitting there with their heads in their hands, crying. Phil will be taking it all in his stride. I can’t speak for Jake but if he’s like Phil he’ll be all right and we are glad that they have been kept together in prison. That’s reassuring because of the language difficulties over there.”
Alex said that that the media coverage of the men’s plight had been “phenomenal”. She said: “We could not ask for anything more and fully endorse the Evening Post campaign. All the campaigning has received a lot of support, including from Sam Tomkins and Widnes rugby players. There is no doubting in anybody’s mind that the allegations are false.
“We are staying positive at home. Phil wouldn’t want it any other way. We are thinking that the authorities will eventually see sense and it will all be OK. My dad is so calm and my mum has been fine about it too.
“What upsets us most is the possibility that Phil wrongly thinks we fear he has been locked up for a good reason, but we know he’s not done anything wrong.
“It is just like a nightmare only I’m hoping to wake up and find out it is all over and he is free. The best thing that could happen is that he is banned for life from Turkey and deported.
“In the meanwhile we have to keep this issue in the media and not let it fall off anyone’s agenda.”
Alex said her brother, a former St John Fisher High School pupil, was a normal 28-year-old who loved his music, his football and especially his job working for VICE News, travelling the world.
Previous film assignments have included a feature on the day-to-day life of children in Sierra Leone, one on the plight of immigrants in Syria and he travelled to North Korea with friend Dylan Harris (of Lupine Travel) and Damon Albarn (of Blur fame) to make a documentary.
“Never has he had any trouble before,” she said. “He and his team know the risks they are taking but have never been fearful of things happening to them. After all, they are not there to take sides: only report what is happening in front of them.”