Police in Istanbul detained freelance photographer Çağdaş Erdoğan on September 2, 2017 while he was photographing a guest house for the National Intelligence Agency (MİT), according to the English-language website Turkey Purge, which tracks arrests.
A court on September 13 ordered the journalist to be jailed pending trial. He is accused of being a member of the banned Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), according to records of his testimony, which CPJ has reviewed.
Erdoğan’s work has appeared in the Guardian, BBC, BuzzFeed, and for agencies including Getty and Agence France-Presse, among other outlets. He has covered PKK news and events, and urban warfare in southeastern Turkey, as well as local culture.
When he was detained, Erdoğan said he was testing a camera phone that the Chinese technology firm Huawei had given him to try out, and he thought the building was nice to be photographed. Erdoğan said a police officer approached him after he took the shot.
The photographer said he did not know the building belonged to the MİT, according to official documents of the testimony that he gave to police and prosecutors.
Authorities questioned Erdoğan about his social media posts on Instagram and Facebook. Additionally, police said his cell number was written on a piece of paper found on a suspected member of the PKK.
Erdoğan denied being a PKK member even though he has photographed people affiliated with the group in the course of his work. Erdoğan said he did not know why a PKK suspect had his phone number, according to police and prosecutor documents that CPJ viewed.
An Istanbul court on November 25, 2017 charged Erdoğan with “being a member of a [terrorist] organization” and “making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization,” according to the daily, Evrensel. According to the indictment, prosecutors claimed the photojournalist’s social media posts were PKK propaganda and alleged that Erdoğan’s actions in taking a photo of the building were proof of his membership to the organization.
As of late 2017, no court date had been set.
The British Journal of Photography published a letter Erdoğan wrote from prison in September 2017 in which he said he believed he was imprisoned for his work with the international media, and not for taking a photograph of a building.