Erdoğan, who faces up to 22.5 years in prison on “terror” charges based on his photographic work, is released pending the conclusion of his trial

ÖZGÜN ÖZÇER – ISTANBUL

Photographer Çağdaş Erdoğan, who had been in prison since September 2017, was released pending trial by the Istanbul 33rd High Criminal Court during the first hearing of the case against him on February 13, 2018. The court adjourned the trial to June 1.

A photographer who has worked with various prominent international news and photo agencies, Erdoğan spent six months in pre-trial detention on charges of “membership in a terrorist organization” and “conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization,” for which he faces up to 22.5 years in prison.

Erdoğan was taken into custody on September 2, 2017 while taking pictures in Istanbul’s Kadıköy district. Accused of photographing a social facility for the employees of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), Erdoğan was imprisoned 11 days later.

Erdoğan and his lawyers gave their defense statement during the February 13 hearing, followed in the courtroom by P24 and the Initiative Against Thought Crime.

Rejecting all accusations against him, Erdoğan said in his defense statement that the indictment consisted in its entirety of photographs he had taken as part of his job as a photographer. Erdoğan said: “This indictment questions nothing else but my profession. The reason I am here is my work, published in the most renowned publications in the world.”

‘Personal responsibility’

The young photojournalist told the court that he has worked with many renowned agencies since he began his career in 2009, such as The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Getty Images. His photographs have been published in the New York Times, the Guardian and BBC, he said. The prestigious British Journal of Photography, printed since 1850, featured his name in the “Photographers to watch” list, he added. “I am one of the four journalists from Turkey who have made it to that list. My photographs have been displayed in four exhibitions recently, two in Greece and Italy, and another two in Turkey, but being unjustly imprisoned, I have been unable to attend.”

Erdoğan also explained that he has been photographing social protests over the years as part of his job. These included curfews and military operations in Kurdish provinces, Gezi protests and democracy vigils following the July 15 coup attempt, he said. Commenting on the accusations in the indictment, he noted that no conclusions should be drawn based on the nature of the events he covered or photographed.

“Identifying a journalist according to the topics he works on is wrong. If we were to judge through the logic behind the indictment, I should be a member of the AKP [Justice and Development Party] for photographing democracy vigils after July 15, and at the same time a member of a left-wing group for photographing May Day protests,” he said.

Erdoğan said that among the evidence in the indictment there was even a photograph taken by him that was used in advertisements for Istanbul Photography Days Festival, an event supported by the Ministry of Culture.

Erdoğan said he feels a personal responsibility to cover rights violations in Turkey. “I have been deprived of my freedom for six months now. The reason is nothing else but the fear and guilt, caused by issues such as the LGBTI community, people of different beliefs, cultures and identities and – most important of all – the dirty war in our region,” he said.

Ill-treatment during detention

Erdoğan denied the allegations that he had prior knowledge that the area he was photographing had any connection with the National Security Organization (MİT). “I am a journalist and I am competent enough to know where I am allowed to take pictures and where I am not. The place where I was detained is a public space and taking pictures in public spaces is a right,” he said, while dismissing claims that he was intending to take reconnaissance pictures. “Such a claim is outdated. Anyone can find those kinds of pictures from the Internet nowadays.”

Erdoğan also said he was subjected to ill-treatment and threats during his early detention. He told the court that he had been subjected to sexual harassment by four police officers who forcibly strip searched him at a police station in Istanbul’s Kadıköy district. He was then brought to the Istanbul Police Department, where he was kept with people suspected of being ISIS members during his entire detention. Erdoğan also said that two officers claiming to work at the Intelligence Agency threatened him that he would be imprisoned unless he reveals information about his sources. “That eventually happened; I have been unjustly imprisoned for using my constitutional right to protect my news sources,” Erdoğan told the court.  

Echoing Erdoğan’s statements, his lawyers also pointed out the lack of substantial evidence in the case file. They also presented to the court examples in which photos similar to those taken by Erdoğan have been used in a wide range of news outlets.

Following the completion of Erdoğan’s defense, the prosecutor requested the continuation of his detention. The court ruled for Erdoğan’s release pending trial, on judicial control terms. Erdoğan was released from Silivri Prison later in the evening. He will be subject to a travel ban until the second hearing on June 1 as part of the judicial control terms imposed by the court.  

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