U.K. Aid Worker Jacqueline Sutton Found Dead in Istanbul’s Main Airport

Jacqueline Sutton, in a photo published on the website of The Institute for War & Peace Reporting (PHOTO CREDIT: The Institute for War & Peace Reporting)
Jacqueline Sutton, in a photo published on the website of The Institute for War & Peace Reporting (PHOTO CREDIT: The Institute for War & Peace Reporting)

The Iraq director of an organization promoting journalism in conflict zones has been found dead in unexplained circumstances at Istanbul’s main airport, colleagues and British officials said Monday.

Friends and co-workers of Jacqueline Sutton called for an urgent investigation into her death, which comes months after her predecessor was killed in a bombing.

The Institute for War and Peace Reporting said Sutton, its country director for Iraq, was found dead at Ataturk Airport on Saturday. It said the former journalist had been on her way to her base in Irbil, in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

Britain’s Foreign Office said it was “providing assistance to the family of Jacqueline Sutton at this difficult time.” It said British officials were in close contact with Turkish authorities.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency said Sutton took her own life inside a washroom at the airport after missing her connecting flight. The agency reported, without citing a source, that she became distraught because she didn’t have money to buy a new ticket to Iraq.

Turkey’s private Dogan news agency said Sutton hanged herself with shoelaces from the hook of the bathroom door, also without citing a source. Her body was discovered by three Russian tourists who alerted police, Dogan said.

Sutton’s colleagues and friends were skeptical about the accounts published in the Turkish press.

“None of us believes she took her own life,” said Vanessa Farr, who worked with Sutton in the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. “But all of us know she was attracting negative attention for her absolute refusal, before U.N. officials, politicians and warlords alike, to stay silent in the face of what she was witnessing women suffer.”

In an email to The Associated Press, Farr said Sutton had recently helped win a $1 million grant for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting to counter the violent misogyny of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

“Her work was extremely difficult and she was a fearlessly courageous defender of women’s rights: but she was a strong and happy person, passionately engaged in her work, loved by many,” Farr said.

Anthony Borden, executive director of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, said Sutton “devoted herself to professional journalism.”

“In respect to that, we should look at the facts,” he said. “We need more facts.”

Free-speech group Article 19 said it was “deeply saddened and shocked” by Sutton’s death and called for “a full and independent investigation.”

Borden said Sutton would have known that the organization would have paid for a new flight, a relatively common occurrence.

“Clearly there would have been no issue (with money). It’s really inconceivable. We change tickets all the time,” he said.

Security officials at Ataturk Airport did not answer calls seeking a comment. A Turkish government spokesman could not immediately be reached.

Sutton, 50, was a former producer and broadcaster with the BBC and held various positions with humanitarian organizations and the United Nations, according to her professional profile on LinkedIn. She was studying for a PhD at the Australian National University on media in war-torn countries, focusing on Iraq and Afghanistan.

In an autobiographical statement published on an Australian blog, Sutton said she had been “detained as a spy and deported” while working in Eritrea in the 1990s.

“I think I had PTSD from the detention so I was unable to cope,” she said. “Now there would be counseling, but back then I was given Prozac and told to soldier on.”

Sutton was appointed to the IWPR in Iraq in June after the death of the previous country director, Ammar Al Shahbander, who was killed in a car bombing in Baghdad, the organization said.

Borden said Sutton had taken over an “extraordinary burden” from her late colleague. He said there was no reason to think the deaths are related.

“She had toys in her bag for the children of staff,” in Iraq, he said.

“The profile doesn’t strike me as right,” he added. “I can’t get my head around it.”

SOURCE: The Associated Press