Mathias Depardon was detained by Turkish police while photographing the ancient city of Hasankeyf. (AP/Burhan Ozbilici)

Turkey must release French photographer Mathias Depardon

Istanbul, May 25, 2017–The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Turkish authorities to immediately free Istanbul-based French photographer Mathias Depardon, who has been held in isolation and without charge in southeast Turkey since May 8, according to media reports.

“We call on Turkish officials to unconditionally set free Mathias Depardon without delay, return his reporting equipment, and allow him to continue working in Turkey unobstructed,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Holding a journalist in isolation and without charge, after having ordered him deported from the country in which he has worked for the past five years, is a particularly cruel and convoluted example of Turkey’s extreme abuse of the press.”

Depardon, 37, was first detained by local police while photographing the ancient city of Hasankeyf on the Tigris River in the southeastern Turkish province of Batman. He was on assignment for National Geographic at the time, according to press reports.

According to the Turkish service of the U.S. government-funded broadcaster Voice of America (VOA), Depardon was approached by police while taking pictures of an area where residents of Hasankeyf were to be relocated in case of flooding. After confiscating his two cameras and reviewing his social media accounts, the police officers detained Depardon on suspicion of “making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization” in relation to several pictures he had shared three years ago on social media, according to the VOA report from May 9.

The photographer’s lawyer, Emine Şeker, told VOA that a local prosecutor had dropped the accusations against Depardon and ordered him released. Yet, according to Şeker, the police officers who initially detained Depardon continued to hold him, eventually transferring him to a migration detention facility in the border province of Gaziantep. According to a May 19 joint letter by 22 European press freedom and media organizations led by Reporters Without Borders and addressed to Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, migration authorities ordered Depardon’s deportation on May 11. Turkey has continued to hold him without explanation. Şeker spoke to the daily Evrensel on May 13 and said her client was being held in solitary confinement. To protest his treatment, the journalist started a hunger strike in detention on May 21, his lawyer said yesterday.

Since a failed coup attempt by rogue military elements in July 2016, the Turkish government has imposed a state of emergency and purged the country’s media landscape of dissenting voices, CPJ research shows. Dozens of journalists have been detained and imprisoned for their work, and multiple others have been forced into exile to avoid politically motivated prosecution and imprisonment. More than 100 media outlets have been shut down on alleged ties to the suspected coup plotters, and hundreds of reporters have lost their jobs. On December 1, 2016, when CPJ conducted its annual prison census, Turkey held at least 81 journalists in direct retaliation for their professional activities–an all-time high for any country in the world since CPJ started keeping records in 1992.