Turkey: RSF calls for French photographer’s release

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) regards French photojournalist Mathias Depardon’s detention since 8 May in southeastern Turkey as “completely unjustified” and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

Aged 37 and based in Turkey for the past few years, Depardon was arrested in Hasankeyf, in Batman province, while doing a report on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers for National Geographic magazine.

After being held for just over 30 hours in a Hasankeyf police station, he was taken to a detention centre operated by the National Department for Migration, an interior ministry offshoot, in the city of Gaziantep.

The Hasankeyf police said he was arrested on suspicion of “propaganda for a terrorist organization,” an apparent allusion to photos of members of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) published in the past in French media outlets. The police are thought to have stumbled across them while looking at his social media accounts after he had been taken into police custody.

“Mathias Depardon’s detention constitutes further evidence of the suspicion with which foreign journalists are increasingly treated in Turkey,” said Erol Önderoğlu, RSF’s representative in Turkey. “The absurd charges brought against him seem designed solely to justify his arbitrary arrest after the event. We call for nothing less than his complete release, without prosecution or expulsion.”

Önderoğlu managed to reach Depardon by phone yesterday afternoon, before his transfer to Gaziantep. “It was tense initially but it has been better since my lawyer got involved,” he said, adding that he had not been mistreated.

His lawyer, Emine Şeker, told RSF today that she will file an appeal as soon as the National Department for Migration issues a decision. “There is nothing we can do without a decision,” she said. “They may decide to expel him or to keep him in administrative detention in Gaziantep.” She is meanwhile trying to recover the two cameras and memory cards with photos that were taken from him.

Dozens of foreign journalist have been expelled from Turkey since fighting between the Turkish army and the PKK resumed in southeastern Turkey in July 2015.

Olivier Bertrand, a French journalist with the Les Jours website, was deported in November 2016 after being arrested while reporting in Gaziantep province. Italian journalist Gabriele Del Grande was arrested in April 2017 in Antakya, near the Syrian border, and was deported after being held for three weeks.

Turkey is ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.