Exactly a year ago – on October 19th, 2014 – the journalist Serena Shim was killed after reporting from Kobani in Syria as a war correspondent. Her death was almost certainly the work of the Turkish intelligence community.
It’s a rather remarkable, and depressing, ‘coincidence’ that just as I was sitting down to put together a post in tribute to her, I’ve just come across news that another journalist and activist, Jacky Sutton, has just been found dead in Turkey – exactly a year to the date of Serena Shim’s suspicious death.
Former BBC journalist, Jacky Sutton (aged 50) is reported to have been found dead in a toilet in Istanbul’s main airport. The British journalist (pictured below), who had been working as Iraq director for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), was in Turkey en route to Irbil in Northern Iraq. Turkish sources have allegedly suggested that she has killed herself after missing a flight connection – a rather poor, even insulting, suggestion, which colleagues of Ms Sutton are dismissing. In her role as acting Iraq head of the (London-based) IWPR, Jackie Sutton’s role has been to support local journalism in countries affected by war and crisis. As The Guardian notes, the organisation’s previous Iraq director, Ammar Al Shahbander, was killed in a car-bomb in Baghdad on 2nd May this year. It is claimed the British woman’s body has been found hanging from boot laces.
Sudipto Mukerjee, a director with the UN Development Programme, has said, according to The Independent; “Very difficult to believe that my colleague in Iraq, staffer and seasoned traveller Jacky Sutton committed suicide.” Ms Sutton had, among other things, previously worked for the BBC World Service, reporting from Africa, the Middle East and London.
As I said, this latest suspicious death in Turkey comes on the precise one-year anniversary of the equally suspicious death of Serena Shim, who was killed in a car ‘accident’ on the Turkey-Syria border in 2014, and again illustrates both the dangers faced by truth-seeking journalists and the extent to which a corrupt Turkish state stands in need of investigation by international authorities.
Serena Shim (October 10th 1985 – October 19th 2014) was an American-Lebanese journalist. The car ‘accident’ in which was killed hadn’t taken place inside the dangerous war-zone she had been reporting from, but had occurred on her way back to ‘safety’. It is also highly significant that Shim had very clearly expressed her concerns for her safety just prior to the ‘accident’.
Shim had described her harassment by security forces as particularly unusual, noting that she had dealt with police and intelligence services before in various different countries, but that the Turkish activity was a targeted response to something very specific. She had said her own instinct was that Turkish security people were tracking her not because of her reporting in Kobani but on account of possible matters of far greater, more damaging, information she might’ve exposed concerning a concerted geo-political conspiracy.
On October 17th last year, just two days before her death, Shim had told Press TV that the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT) had accused her of “spying”. She stated it was “probably due to some of the stories she had covered” about Turkey’s role in the Islamic State terror group and particularly in regard to the militants in Kobani. It was Shim who had reported on ISIL militants being smuggled across the Turkish border into Syria in trucks deceptively bearing the symbols of NGOs like the World Food Organisation. The 29 year-old Shim had even said on air that she was “a bit frightened” by the danger posed to her by Turkey’s MİT.
She died on October 19th 2014, having been on the way back to her hotel. She had been returning to Suruç with her cousin Judy Irish in a rental car which then collided with a heavy vehicle (a cement mixer, according to Turkish media). Supposedly, Shim died in the crash while her cousin Judy Irish was injured and taken to Suruç State Hospital. According to the Turkish Doğan News Agency, the driver of the heavy vehicle was subsequently arrested. Shim’s employer at the time, Press TV, disputed this, alleging that both driver and vehicle had “disappeared”.
There was also the curious report that Shim and Irish were for some reason taken to different hospitals after the crash.
Shim’s sister appears to have been in no doubt that the journalist was murdered for various reasons. “She caught them bringing in ISIS high-ranked members into Syria from Turkey into camps, which are supposed to be Syrian refugee camps,” Fatmeh Shima said. “I think it was planned and plotted. There’s no pictures of Sassy in the car. There is not one scratch on my sister’s body. They took them to two different hospitals. Why? Why were there Army men on the ground, why weren’t there police?”
Serena Shim’s sister complained that the family received inconsistent reports about the specifics surrounding her death. “There are so many different stories. The first story was that Serena’s car was hit by a heavy vehicle who proceeded to keep on driving,” Fatemeh Shim told RT, also complaining about Turkish authorities’ inability to find the vehicle or the driver.
Fox News also quoted Shim’s mother as saying that the scene looked “staged” and that her death wasn’t an accident.
Her tragic death came just two days after a video interview in which she claimed Turkish intelligence agents had threatened her after her report on the ISIL extremist jihadists being smuggled into Syria from Turkey.
In her own words; ‘I am a bit worried because… Turkey has been labeled by Reporters Without Borders as the largest prison for journalists, so I am a bit frightened about what they might use against me.’ She continues, ‘We were some of the first people on the ground, if not the first people to give that story of those Takfiri militants going in through the Turkish border. It was very apparent that they were Takfiri militants by their beards and by the clothes that they wore and they were going in there with NGO trucks and I just find it very odd, they went to several local residents here and asked about me. The other reports that I had done were about at the time, the so called Free Syrian Army going in, and catching these Takfiri militants and getting the passport stamps and getting firsthand information that they were actually inside while Turkey was still hiding them.’
‘I think this has a lot to do with it and I think they want to know why I’m back,’ Serena Shim said. ‘I’ve been stopped by them before, but not necessarily to this level, just by police basically. But for the intelligence to actually look for me, that’s rather odd, so I think that they’re trying to get the word out to journalists to be careful so much as to what they say…’
Within two days of this report, Serena Shim was dead.
No independent investigation has been conducted by the United States over her death, despite her US citizenship.
Serena Shim also wasn’t the first journalist affiliated with Press TV to have been killed. Maya Nasser was shot dead by a sniper while on air delivering a report from Damascus, Syria, in 2012. A statement posted to Nasser’s Facebook page claimed that “armed terrorists” had simply driven up in vehicles and additional snipers shot from the rooftops of nearby buildings.
The 29 year-old Serena Shim was married and had two young children. Her tragic death was almost certainly an unlawful assassination designed firstly to silence her from reporting further on Turkey’s involvement in the rise of ISIL/Daesh, and secondly to act as a violent warning to other journalists to stay away from trying to expose the true nature of the war in Syria and the cynical manufacturing of the ‘Islamic State’ for geo-political purposes. The United States’ lack of interest in pursuing the matter of her death also suggests the US is complicit in that warning too.
In October 2014 Serena Shim herself joined the roll-call of brave journalists over the years who’ve risked – and ultimately sacrificed – their lives for the sake of uncovering the truth. Her bravery is all the more meaningful in the context of how most mainstream, corporate-owned journalism has been either reluctant or unwilling to dig deeper beyond the superficial surface of the ‘ISIS’ story and report more honestly about the origins of the crisis.
Certainly at the time of her death this time last year, mainstream journalists were almost entirely conforming to the approved corporate/political script, even if more meaningful journalism has started to gradually emerge in isolated spurts between then and now. But Shim was one of the few who was risking life and limb in dangerous territory to report on what was really going on. And she paid with her life.
Reporters Without Borders has labelled Turkey the ‘world’s largest prison for journalists’. In the supposedly democratic nation with EU membership aspirations, press freedom is pretty much non-existent. In an atmosphere of intimidation and fear, Turkey imprisons more journalists than any other modern nation; in spite of this tight control of information, people like Serena Shim and others have nevertheless managed to expose Turkey’s criminal role in supporting the Islamic State terror group and sustaining/funding the War in Syria that has killed over a quarter-of-a-million Syrians.
Meanwhile the killing of journalists and activists, either as tragic consequences of reporting from danger zones or by deliberate, targeted assassination, is an ongoing crime all over the world. The highly suspicious death of Jacky Sutton in a Turkish airport, just announced this evening, demonstrates that Serena Shim wasn’t the first and won’t be the last journalist to lose their life in the field, and that she is part of a long line of journalists who’ve been killed for various reasons over the years, including the likes of Max Hastings, Hunter S. Thompson, Garry Webb, Daniel Pearl, Maya Nasser and many others. According to the International Press Institute, 64 journalists have been killed so far in 2015.
This, this, this and this are all examples of the very real, mortal dangers journalists and photo-journalists face when putting themselves on the line for the sake of information or the sake of exposing inconvenient truths.
Change.org is petitioning the United States Department of Justice to investigate Shim’s death; you can add your signature to the petition here. Anonymous also launched #OpSerenaShim in memory of the deceased journalist.
As for this very unlikely explanation given by Turkish sources for the sudden suicide of Jacky Sutton, we will have to wait and see if British authorities push for a better explanation and if an investigation uncovers anything more. In her career, Jacky Sutton hasn’t been a stranger to danger and is not someone at all characterised as having been thin-skinned or emotionally vulnerable. This article here recounts much of her life in her own words.
As for Serena Shim, she was killed doing what American writer Walter Lipmann once called the ‘highest law’ in journalism – working to tell the truth and ‘shame the devil’. It might not be sufficient comfort to her friends, family or children, but it is ultimately the highest possible calling for any journalist.