Turkey Releases National Geographic Photographer Detained for a Month But Never Charged

Mathias Depardon was allowed to leave Turkey on Friday.

French photographer Mathias Depardon, who was arrested in Turkey on May 8 while on assignment for National Geographic, was released on Friday and returned to France.

Depardon, 36, who has lived in Turkey for five years, was arrested while working in the district of Hasankeyf in the southeastern province of Batman, not far from Turkey’s border with Syria. Depardon was taking photographs for a National Geographic story about the effects on a historic town if a proposed dam were built nearby.

"Obviously I'm very relieved to be free," Depardon said by phone after he returned to France. "It's a weird feeling. You go from not seeing your laptop and phone for a month to getting out and speaking with the president [of France]. I'm getting more and more rest and I feel pretty strong psychologically."

International press freedom organizations and National Geographic expressed relief at Depardon's release.

“We are enormously relieved that Mathias Depardon has been released from more than a month of unwarranted, uncharged detention in Turkey,” said Susan Goldberg, editor in chief of National Geographic. “Mathias is a photographer with a long record of practicing distinguished journalism all over the world. While we are grateful he is now freed, he never should have been detained in the first place.”

The Turkish government has not told National Geographic why Depardon was released now, just as it never answered questions about why he was arrested and detained.

According to his lawyer and friends, Depardon was stopped on May 8 by police who saw him taking photos, and then reviewed images on his Instagram account. When they found images he had taken several months before of fighters for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)—an armed group that has battled the Turkish government for decades and which is listed by the U.S. as a terrorist organization—Depardon says the officials accused him of supporting terrorists and took him into custody. Though a deportation order reportedly was drawn up at that time, it was not executed.

In the month since, Depardon never was formally charged, but was confined in a deportation facility in a small, shared cell. He went on a hunger strike May 21-28 to protest his treatment, and had told his mother, Daniele Van de Lanotte, that he felt isolated and anxious, and needed medical care.

Several international organizations had urged the Turkish government to end Depardon’s detention. The Committee to Protect Journalists launched a campaign seeking his release. So did the international journalist rights organization Reporters Without Borders, whose secretary general, Christophe Deloire, traveled to Turkey this week with Van de Lanotte to visit Depardon. Friends and colleagues had mobilized calls for Depardon’s release on social media behind the hashtag #FreeMathias.

Now back in Paris, Depardon expects to stay in France. Several of his friends in Turkey have shipped many of his belongings, as well as his images.

Before he was arrested, Depardon, who photographs with film, had shot more than 100 rolls worth of images. During the month he spent detained, his lawyer recovered the rolls from a hotel room he was staying in. The lawyer sent them to France, where a friend received them and sent them to the United States. The images are now being reviewed at National Geographic's headquarters in Washington, D.C.