VICE Media says it is blacking out all of its digital channels around the world for two hours on Wednesday, in an attempt to raise awareness about the ongoing detention of a journalist in Turkey. The front pages of all the company’s websites will be replaced with a message and a link to a petition asking for his release.
Mohammed Rasool, an Iraqi-born journalist and translator, was arrested along with two other Vice News journalists in August and thrown in jail. Rasool’s British colleagues were released in September, but he remains in a maximum-security prison.
Anyone visiting any of the company’s almost 100 digital properties between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m EST will be greeted by a black screen, with a message asking them to sign a Change.org petition calling for Rasool’s release, and to spread the link via social media. The petition was created by VICE with advice from the Committee to Protect Journalists, and is addressed to Turkish president Recep Erdogan.
Rasool and his colleagues Phil Pendlebury and Jake Hanrahan were arrested while reporting in southeast Turkey and were detained on suspicion of assisting the terrorist organization ISIS. The team was covering clashes between the Youth Wing of the PKK—the Kurdistan Worker’s Party—and Turkish authorities in Cizre and Diyarbakir.
Rasool is a 25-year-old freelance journalist and also a student in international relations at a university in Istanbul, who has worked as a translator and fixer for VICE and other media outlets, including Al Jazeera and Associated Press.
“The very existence of democracy relies on a free and thriving fourth estate,” VICE founder Shane Smith said in a prepared statement about the blackout campaign. “Please help us focus attention on Rasool’s case, by sharing the hashtag on social media of #FreeRasool, and keeping pressure on the Turkish authorities to free him immediately.”
It’s not clear how many visitors will see the VICE message, but Wednesday is one of the highest traffic days for many online sites, and doing it at 10 am EST means that viewers in almost every country will be affected. The blackout includes VICE’s Snapchat channel and all of its social-media properties as well as its traditional websites.
“The ongoing imprisonment of Mohammed Ismael Rasool is a tremendous injustice, one that highlights the arbitrary, capricious and punitive nature of the Turkish criminal justice system,” said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Unfortunately, Rasool’s case is far from unique in Turkey. The country is infamous not just for imprisoning journalists but for its totalitarian approach to media in general, including the suppression of social media through censorship of Twitter (TWTR), Facebook (FB) and YouTube. Twitter has fought a number of times to strike down censorship orders from the Turkish authorities, or demands to release user information.
According to Turkish dissidents, social media and external sources such as VICE are even more important than they would be elsewhere because local media outlets are unwilling to report on corruption or the behavior of Turkish police and armed forces. In part, that’s because media ownership is concentrated among friends of the government, but it’s also because those who report on military action are often censored.
Alex Miller, the global head of content at VICE Media, said in a statement that its readers “care deeply about freedom of speech and human rights” and that’s why the company decided to launch the campaign for Rasool’s release.