FRANTIC behind-the-scenes negotiations have begun after it emerged that the son of former Leigh player John Pendlebury and two colleagues had been arrested on suspicion of terrorist offences during an assignment in Turkey.
Phil Pendlebury, correspondent Jake Hanrahan and an unnamed Turkish man variously described as a translator, fixer and/or driver, were detained while in the south-east region of Diyarbakir while filming clashes between police and youth members of the pro-Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) last Thursday.
They were charged yesterday with “assisting Islamic State” (Isis), and are due to stand trial, although they could face months of incarceration before learning the full extent of the accusations.
Phil, 29, a former St John Fisher High pupil whose dad, John played for Halifax, Wigan and Leigh, moved to London a couple of years ago to pursue his career as a video journalist and is developing a reputation as one of the most respected cameramen in the business.
His parents Heather and John are in constant touch with the legal team at Vice News for whom Phil and Jake worked. Meanwhile his sister Alex has launched a social media campaign demanding justice for her brother and his colleagues.
According to the lawyer representing the trio, police acted upon a tip-off by an anonymous caller, who claimed the journalists were “working with the Islamic State”.
But the arrests have attracted international condemnation, not least from Amnesty International who described the allegations as “unsubstantiated, outrageous and bizarre.”
Dylan Harris, whose firm Lupine Travel organises holidays to unusual parts of the world, has worked regularly with friend Phil.
He said: “I only spoke to him on Thursday morning. He was supposed to be filming a festival I was involved in at the weekend. The city where it’s happened is where I’ve got a base. We start our tours there into Iraq. I’ve seen first hand what the police are like over there. It’s the unofficial capital of Kurdistan. A lot of press are scared of going to this area because of what goes on. I’ve heard all kinds of stories about how people have been treated by police. I’ve had some of my tourists who’ve been detained by police just for walking down the street. They have been released but the police are really paranoid about people they can tell don’t come from that area. People usually stay in the west.
“The only thing that can be done is the UK government putting pressure on them. They won’t just release them unless someone steps in.”
PEN International and PEN Turkey – which promote literature and freedom of expression – said they were “extremely concerned” about the detention.
A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “We are providing consular assistance and are in touch with the relevant authorities following the arrest of two British nationals in Diyarbakir.”
And Amnesty said Turkey has a dismal record of abusing its anti-terror laws in order to suppress dissent, frequently targeting journalists.
Frederike Geerdink, an international journalist based in Diyarbakir was prosecuted earlier this year in what was described as “a baseless case,” accused of “making propaganda for a terrorist organisation”. She was acquitted by a local court in April, but the case remains pending on appeal.