“I was not surprised at all at being arrested,” Çağdaş Erdoğan tells BJP. “It’s enough to say that as we speak there are still 170 reporters in prison in Turkey.”
The 26-year-old only recently regained his freedom, after being arrested on 02 September 2017 for taking photographs in Yoğurtçu Park. Officially he was taken into custody for photographing the Millî İstihbarat Teşkilatı (MİT) building, the home of Turkey’s answer to MI5, the National Intelligence Organisation. “But it is entirely fictitious,” he tells BJP, “because the place where I photographed is just a park and there isn’t any building, or even signs that show the presence of a restricted area where you cannot take pictures. Shortly after, the main reason of my arrest became the fact that I didn’t share any information about the contacts I used for some of my reportage as a journalist.
On 13 February, Çağdaş Erdoğan will stand trial in Istanbul accused of membership and support of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a separatist group classified as a terrorist organisation by the Turkish government. Erdoğan is of Kurdish descent, grew up in the region and, as an adult, embedded with affiliates of the PKK during the complex, multifactional conflict that has crossed the borders of Syria, Iraq and Turkey. But he did so, he claims, purely as a photojournalist intent on documenting an unseen conflict for the world’s media and without any alliance with or allegiance to any organisation. His only allegiance was to photography.
“MY FRIENDS!” writes Çağdaş Erdoğan from the Silivri Prison, Istanbul on 21 September, in a handwritten letter translated by a curator contact and circulated by his publisher Akina Books. “I salute all of you with my heart. Regardless of the illogical times we have been having, I hope you are well. Don’t worry about me. I’m doing well despite the physical and psychological negativities I experienced since the last two weeks.” Erdoğan was taken into custody at the start of September and officially arrested on 13 September, when he was put into pretrial arrest on accusations of membership to a terrorist organisation. In his letter, Erdoğan discusses the reason he was initially apprehended, and discusses some of the reasons he has been given for the terrorism charges.
When Mathias Depardon was released by the Turkish government on 09 June, he had been held in custody for 32 days. Detained on 08 May in Hasankeyf in South East Turkey, the French freelancer had been on his very first day of shooting on assignment for National Geographic. “It was my first day photographing the new settlement of Hasankeyf, 300km from Batman,” he explains, adding that he had been in the region for 10 days and was driving back from Gaziantep when he was stopped.
Despite an order for his deportation issued on 11 May, Mathieu Depardon remains in Turkish custody, his only contact with the outside world via his lawyer, Emine Şeker – who now has informed RSF that he began a protest hunger strike on 21 May