DISPATCHES FROM MIKE KUHLENBECK
SPECIAL ROVING CORRESPONDENT
war and social injustice cannot proliferate in the face of truth
Since Press TV correspondent Serena Shim was killed in a mysterious car crash near the Turkish-Syrian border in late 2014, many questions have gone unanswered by US and Turkish authorities.
“I have nothing to hide,” Shim said on October 17, 2014, responding to allegations of espionage by Turkish intelligence. Two days later, she was dead. Family members and colleagues deemed the circumstances surrounding the crash as “mysterious” and “suspicious.”
Shim’s mother, Judy Poe, said she believes her daughter was murdered.
Shim, an American-born journalist, was killed on October 19, 2014. After returning from the city of Suruch, Shim and camera operator Judy Irish were heading back to their hotel in the Şanlıurfa province when their car collided with a concrete mixer driven by Şükrü Salan. Shim died thirty minutes after arriving at the Sanliurfa Mehmet Akif Inan Training and Research Hospital, reportedly from a heart attack. Irish, the driver of the car, was injured from the impact of the airbag.
Initial crash reports prepared by the local gendarmerie on the day of the accident all but cleared Salan of responsibility. According to this report, Irish “entered the junction too fast, violating a lane as well as traffic rules by turning right.” However, Salan was later accused of negligence which caused the crash. Media accounts from December 2014 reported that local prosecutors were seeking a 6-year jail term for Salan.
Shim was covering the rise of ISIL and the ongoing devastation in the Syrian city of Kobanî, which has been under siege for some time. She reported that ISIL militants were crossing the border from Turkey into Syria, under the guise of humanitarian aid, travelling in trucks affiliated with NGOs (non-governmental organizations), some of which were allegedly transporting food and other supplies.
The Turkish regime under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been accused of oppressing the Kurdish population and supporting Islamic State militants. It is widely-believed that such a story would tarnish the image of the Turkish government and this is why Turkey’s National Intelligence Office (MIT) accused Shim of espionage. Even though the intrepid reporter was no stranger to controversy, the allegations left her rattled.
“I’m very surprised at this accusation,” Shim said in one of her last interviews with Press TV. “I even thought of approaching Turkish intelligence because I have nothing to hide.”
Shim was quite familiar with the Turkish government’s reputation and decided against confronting her accusers for fear of being arrested. RT reported that in one of her last audio recordings, Shim told her mother, “Being killed is scary, Mom…going to jail is not scary. It sucks, but it’s not scary.”
“I am a bit worried,” Shim said in her October 17 interview with Press TV. “…because… I am frightened about what they might use against me… We were some of the first people on the ground –if not the first people – to get that story of…militants going in through the Turkish border…”
The United States government praises Turkey, its NATO ally in the Middle East, despite the constant human rights abuses committed by its government, particularly against journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that 23 journalists have been killed in Turkey since 1992 with “confirmed motives” behind their deaths.
The 2015 World Press Freedom Index, issued annually by Reporters Without Borders, ranks Turkey toward the bottom of its list at 149 out of 180 nations. The same organization has referred to Turkey as “the world’s largest prison for journalists.”
Fatmeh Shim, Shim’s sister, told RT, “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…Two days later, surprisingly they have found the vehicle and the driver and had pictures of the heavy vehicle heading my sister’s car.”
She goes on to say that her family obtained “new pictures of different degrees of damages that have happened to the car,” and other dubious information.
İzzettin Küçük, governor of the Urfa province, said the allegations were “completely baseless” and said to the Turkish daily news source Hürriyet Daily News that such claims were merely “attempts to put Turkey in a difficult situation.”
The US government has been evasive toward the subject whenever it is mentioned. During a daily press briefing from November 20, 2014, a reporter asked US State Department spokesperson Jeff Rathke if Shim’s case was going to be investigated. “Did her death raise suspicions here at the State Department?”
Rathke’s response, or lack thereof, only deepened the family’s suspicions:
MR. RATHKE: Well, I think we’ve spoken to this in the briefing room several weeks ago, after it happened. I don’t have anything to add to what the spokesperson said at the time, though.
QUESTION: But then she died several days after she claimed she had been threatened by the Turkish intelligence. Have you inquired about this? Have you asked questions? Is there really nothing new about this?
MR. RATHKE: Well, I just don’t have any update to share with you. Again, this was raised shortly after her death. The spokesperson addressed it. I don’t have an update to share with you at this time.
To this day, neither the US State Department nor President Barack Obama have expressed their condolences to Shim’s family. They have also failed to announce whether or not they are going to examine her case. Based on numerous accounts, many believe that only a serious investigation can prove if her death was an accident or a homicide.
When American reporters James Foley and Steven Sotloff were beheaded by men who claimed to be Islamic militants last year, the news of their deaths was met with public outrage. However, the deaths were politicized and used as cannon fodder to escalate US military intervention against Islamic militants in the Middle East.
The US media also failed to report on Shim’s death. Exceptions include outlets such as the Fox News website and the Detroit Free Press, otherwise there has been a near media blackout of the case in America.
On December 19, 2014, Samantha Libby, CPJ Advocacy Officer, issued a statement on why Shim was not listed on their annual index of journalists who are killed in 2014:
“The Committee to Protect Journalists has investigated the events surrounding Serena Shim’s death in Turkey and at this time has found no evidence to indicate that her death was anything other than a tragic accident. Unless her death is confirmed to be in direct relation to her work as a journalist, it will not appear on our database. In the event that new evidence comes to light, CPJ would review her case.”
As of February 2016, the CPJ has not changed its position. When following-up on the status of their investigation, they have failed to respond to further requests for information about the case.
The office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said Turkey is carrying out an investigation, but few details have emerged and they have not published any findings for the public.
Given the lack of attention the story drew in Shim’s nation of birth, it was up to her family, friends and colleagues to tell her story. They have launched social media campaigns and drafted petitions to the White House calling for a thorough, non-partisan investigation into the events of Shim’s death.
Due to the lack of concern by US and Turkish authorities, the hacktivist collective Anonymous announced they would conduct their own investigation under the banner #OpSerenaShim.
In a press release and video issued by Anonymous, the group stated:
“We will not let the death of Serena Shim go unpunished. We will not let the murders of all those journalists go unpunished. You have shown the world your support for ISIS. You have shown the world how it is you run your murderous empire. But you forgot one thing …we do not forgive. We do not forget. Anonymous has already began attacking your infrastructure. But this is only the beginning. As the truth continues to come to light, Turkey will feel the wrath of Anonymous. The only demands we have is a full investigation into the murder of Serena Shim. She was an American citizen. She was our sister. She was our friend.”
Shim was born of Lebanese-descent in Detroit, Michigan on October 10, 1985. She grew up in Dearborn, Michigan and later moved to Livonia, Missouri. After graduating Clarenceville High School in 2003, she studied International Affairs at the American University of Science and Technology before joining Press TV in 2006. During her time at the network, she covered stories in Lebanon, Iraq and Ukraine.
“Her tongue was her weapon,” Fatmeh Shim said in an interview with the Detroit Free Press.
Shim’s loved ones, colleagues and international supporters are determined in their quest for justice.
Special Roving Correspondent Mike Kuhlenbeck, is a journalist, photographer, researcher and media critic based in Des Moines, Iowa. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors and the National Writers Union UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO. Kuhlenbeck works as a reporter for Iowa Free Press and as a freelance journalist. Besides The Greanville Post, his work has appeared in publications such as The Des Moines Register, The Humanist, Z Magazine, Foreign Policy Journal, Eurasia Review, People’s World, The Palestine Chronicle, Paste, Little Village, Industrial Worker, Earth First! Journal, Intrepid Report and the National Writers Union newsletter. His extensive and wide-ranging reportage has covered a myriad of subjects including news, politics, social issues, entertainment and local events. His work has been published nationally and internationally, and has been translated into numerous languages.
Special Roving Correspondent Mike Kuhlenbeck, is a journalist, photographer, researcher and media critic based in Des Moines, Iowa. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors and the National Writers Union UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO.
Kuhlenbeck works as a reporter for Iowa Free Press and as a freelance journalist. Besides The Greanville Post, his work has appeared in publications such as The Des Moines Register, The Humanist, Z Magazine, Foreign Policy Journal, Eurasia Review, People’s World, The Palestine Chronicle, Paste, Little Village, Industrial Worker, Earth First! Journal, Intrepid Report and the National Writers Union newsletter.
His extensive and wide-ranging reportage has covered a myriad of subjects including news, politics, social issues, entertainment and local events. His work has been published nationally and internationally, and has been translated into numerous languages.
READ MORE ABOUT MIKE KUHLENBECK