Mathias Depardon on hunger strike against detention by Turkish authorities

On 06 May Mathias Depardon was in good spirits – on assignment in South East Turkey for National Geographic, he updated his Facebook with a post reading “Diyarbakir I m in town. My boots are muddy and I m a bit smelly but can surely be of a good company tonight for a beer.”
By 08 May his assignment had turned sour, with Turkish police arresting him in Hasankeyf, Batman Province, and detaining him in a police station for 30 hours. There the police are thought to have come across his images of members of the banned PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) via social media, leading to accusations that he had created “propaganda for a terrorist organisation” – charges which were never officially made, and which Reporters Sans Frontiers’ Turkish representative Erol Önderoğlu described as “absurd” and “designed solely to justify his arbitrary arrest after the event”.
From the police station Depardon was taken to a detention centre operated by the National Department for Migration, an interior ministry offshoot, in the city of Gaziantep – and, despite an order for his deportation issued on 11 May, there he remains to this day. Depardon’s only contact with the outside world is via his lawyer, Emine Şeker – who now has informed RSF that he began a protest hunger strike on 21 May.
“Reporters Without Borders [aka Reporters Sans Frontiers] is extremely concerned about Mathias Depardon, a French photographer held for the past two weeks in Turkey and now on a hunger strike, and reiterates its call for his immediate release,” wrote RSF in a statement released today (24 May).
“The ordeal to which Mathias Depardon is being subjected is unacceptable and has lasted for too long,” added Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, in the same statement. “The Turkish authorities, who are responsible for his safety, must end this grotesque situation. We again urge the French government to intervene firmly to protect this photographer and obtain his release.”
“The authorities had no reason to arrest Mathias Depardon and his continued detention is both incomprehensible and unacceptable, especially as he was supposed to have been expelled a week ago,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said in an earlier RSF statement, released on 19 May. “We call on the Turkish authorities to end this ordeal at once.”
The 19 May statement was a joint call for Depardon’s release, which accompanied a letter sent to the Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, co-signed by two other press freedom groups and 19 media outlets, including National Geographic, The Sunday Times, Le Monde, Liberation, Paris Match, Der Speigel and the Visa Pour l’Image Festival.
“This is a very difficult situation for Depardon and his family to experience,” the letter read. “The only communication channel he has with the outside world is his lawyer. The journalist is left without explanation about his continuing detention. This information vacuum makes us increasingly anxious, and we respectfully call on you to authorize French diplomats to visit him.”
“As confirmed by National Geographic, Depardon was in Hasankeyf on a professional assignment,” the letter later continued. “We understand the legitimate security concerns in this area and we fully respect the law enforcement agencies’ duty to protect Turkish citizens. But there is no ground to detain or deport Depardon. He should be allowed to continue his work in Turkey.”
Against this backdrop, friends and colleagues of the reporter, who is aged 37, have become increasingly concerned for his welfare. “The last thing he said to me before being carted off to a deportation facility in Gaziantep was “tell my mom what has happened”,”wrote fellow photojournalist Ivor Prickett on Facebook today.
“I haven’t been able to speak to him since. Nor has his family. The French embassy haven’t even been granted access to our friend and colleague. Spread the word people, free Mathias! Stay strong buddy xoxo.”
++This story was updated on 10 June at 07.10am to reflect the fact that Depardon was never officially charged++
++This story was updated on 25 May to correct Mathias Depardon’s age (he’s 37 not 30)++

Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is the editor of BJP, returning for a second stint on staff in 2023 - after 15 years on the team until 2019. As a freelancer, she has written for The Guardian, FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, Aperture, FOAM, Aesthetica and Apollo. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy