Released French photographer says Turkey sending ‘message’

French photojournalist Mathias Depardon, who was held for a month in Turkey, said on his return to France Friday night that Ankara wanted to send a "strong message" to reporters wishing to go to the southeast of the country.

Released French photographer says Turkey sending 'message'
French photojournalist Mathias Depardon (R) addresses the media after landing back in Paris. Photo: Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/AFP

Depardon, who was detained near the Syrian border while on assignment for National Geographic magazine, said he was “happy to be in Paris, to be in France” as he was met by government officials at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport. “I'm fine,” the 37-year-old told reporters, smiling but visibly tired.

Depardon said he was accused of terrorist propaganda and supporting terrorist groups, namely the Kurdish separatist PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party), over some photographs he had taken in recent years.

“I think the idea was to send a strong message to foreign and Turkish journalists who are intending to cover news in southeast Turkey,” he said.

The southeast has been battered by renewed fighting between Kurdish rebels and Turkish security forces since a fragile truce collapsed in 2015.

Depardon said he had very little contact with other detainees and did not know long he was going to be held.

“I knew that legally I could be detained up to a year,” he said.

The photographer was deported a day after receiving a visit from his mother for the first time at the detention centre in Gaziantep.

President Emmanuel Macron had announced Depardon's arrival on Twitter after asking his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan last weekend to ensure the journalist's return to France “as soon as possible.”

Macron had welcomed his release, saying in a statement: “France is committed to freedom of the press and the protection of journalists everywhere.”

Depardon was detained on May 8th while on assignment in Hasankeyf in Turkey's southeastern Batman province.

He went on hunger strike two weeks after his detention, stopping almost a week later when he learned that a consular visit would be allowed.

Depardon was accused of working without a press card, which was in the process of being renewed.

He was also detained over “propaganda for a terror group” – a reference to outlawed Kurdish militants – which could lead to a judicial investigation, according to Turkish authorities.

“It was an absolutely unjustified detention,” Reporters Without Borders (RSF) secretary general Christophe Deloire told AFP.

Journalists' advocate groups say working conditions have deteriorated in Turkey in recent years, especially since a coup attempt last July.

Turkey ranks 155th out of 180 in the 2017 press freedom index of RSF.


Erdogan calls French separatism bill ‘guillotine’ of democracy

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday denounced a planned French law designed to counter "Islamist separatism" as a "guillotine" of democracy.

Erdogan calls French separatism bill 'guillotine' of democracy
Erdogan has already denounced the proposed measures as "anti-Muslim". Photo: Adem ALTAN/AFP

The draft legislation has been criticised both inside France and abroad for stigmatising Muslims and giving the state new powers to limit speech and religious groups.

“The adoption of this law, which is openly in contradiction of human rights, freedom of religion and European values, will be a guillotine blow inflicted on French democracy,” said Erdogan in a speech in Ankara.

The current version of the planned law would only serve the cause of extremism, putting NGOs under pressure and “forcing young people to choose between their beliefs and their education”, he added.

READ ALSO: What’s in France’s new law to crack down on Islamist extremism?

“We call on the French authorities, and first of all President (Emmanuel) Macron, to act sensibly,” he continued. “We expect a rapid withdrawal of this bill.”

Erdogan also said he was ready to work with France on security issues and integration, but relations between the two leaders have been strained for some time.

France’s government is in the process of passing new legislation to crack down on what it has termed “Islamist separatism”, which would give the state more power to vet and disband religious groups judged to be threats to the nation.

Erdogan has already denounced the proposed measures as “anti-Muslim”.

READ ALSO: Has Macron succeeded in creating an ‘Islam for France’?

Last October, Erdogan questioned Macron’s “mental health”, accusing him of waging a “campaign of hatred” against Islam, after the French president defended the right of cartoonists to caricature the prophet Mohammed.

The two countries are also at odds on a number of other issues, including Libya, Syria and the eastern Mediterranean.