Italy demands release of journalist detained in Turkey


Italy is pressuring Turkey to release Gabriele Del Grande, an Italian journalist and film-maker who has been detained without charge for nine days and has started a hunger strike. Del Grande was stopped near the Syrian border on 9 April and had been expected to be freed and repatriated within a couple of days. Instead, he is being held in a detention centre in the south-western city of Mugla.

"Since the first day of this case, the Farnesina has been calling for Gabriele Del Grande to be allowed regular legal and consular assistance," a statement said, using the name used in Italy for the foreign ministry. "But this obviously is not enough, as the Farnesina calls for Del Grande to be freed, in full respect of the law," the ministry added.

Earlier Tuesday, the journalist issued a statement, relayed by his colleagues on the Facebook page for "On the Bride's side," his award-winning documentary.

"I was allowed to phone only after days of protests. I was not told that Italian authorities wanted to get in touch with me. Tonight I will start a hunger strike and I call on everybody to mobilise and ask that my rights are respected," Del Grande was quoted as saying. "My documents are in order, but they won't allow me to name a lawyer and I have not been told when my detention will end. I am fine, they haven't laid a finger on me, but I cannot use the phone," he added.

Del Grande said he was repeatedly questioned about the work he was doing in Turkey. The Farnesina sent a consul to Mugla and asked for the Italian ambassador to Ankara to be allowed to visit the detainee.

Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano told the Corriere della Sera daily Tuesday that "all channels" had been activated to secure a release and that Turkey had given "reassurances" about the case.

Del Grande writes the human rights blog "Fortress Europe" and has authored several books about the plight of migrants.

"On the Bride's Side" tells the story of a group of Syrian refugees who make it across Europe by faking a wedding party. Within the European Union, Italy is one of the countries with the closest political and economic ties to Turkey, whose president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has come under increasing international criticism for curtailing civil rights.

Since Erdogan responded to an aborted coup in July, Erdogan's "witch hunt" against critical media has intensified, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), an international group that monitors press freedom.

"Dozens of journalists have been imprisoned without trial, turning Turkey into the world's biggest prison for media personnel," RSF writes on its website.    (dpa)

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