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I Went to Cover the Istanbul Protests and Got Arrested - Part 3

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Part 3
Sunday: Arrested

I'm standing in a deserted alleyway, facing a line of advancing riot police. It's too late to run, and even if I do there's more of them waiting in the street behind me. They slow down as they walk past, watching me and paying particular attention to my gas mask. They don't stop this time, but now I'm trapped. My only way out is through the police lines.

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I turn back into the main street and approach the riot officers. "What are you doing here? Open your bag!" shouts one of them. "I'm a journalist," I say, waving my press card. He grabs my arm, opens up my bag and pulls out my gas mask: that's all the proof he needs. He snatches the press card, and turns to a colleague: "We have someone to take into custody." I start to panic. I naively think that if I keep saying "I didn't do anything; I'm working as a journalist," maybe they'll let me go, but no one's listening.

Someone grabs my arms and locks them behind my back. Another officer rips my shirt around the neck, while his colleague jabs me with a baton. "Can you understand Turkish?" they ask, in Turkish. I tell them only a little. "You do speak Turkish, speak Turkish!" shouts one. "Get that cigarette out of your mouth! You're disgusting." They shove me against a wall where other officers are gathered and rummage through my bag. Insults are thrown my way. Someone hands me back my bag: my camera is inside, but no press card.

By the roadside, the police have commandeered a fleet of taxis to take people into custody. Before I'm shoved inside someone slaps some plastic handcuffs around my wrists and tightens them as much as possible. The taxi driver turns to me: "Do you have enough money to pay for the journey?" A friendlier-looking policeman accompanies me for the ride. I insist I haven't done anything wrong. "You will tell the policemen," he replies blankly. "This must be difficult for you, as a guest in Turkey" he adds.

We start circling Gezi Park. Two laps later, it dawns on me that no one knows the way. We stop several times to ask for directions. The policeman turns, and grinning, says: "We don't seem to have anywhere we can arrest you." Thirty minutes later our taxi pulls up outside a police station. Ahead, two protesters are being taken into custody with me. A pot-bellied policeman gives them both a sharp kick to the legs; I get one too, but thankfully not quite as hard.

Inside, dozens of ordinary policemen are dozing off in a lounge. "Stand facing the wall," orders a short-sleeved officer. On my left, a group of riot policemen are rough-handling a chubby youth. Someone slaps him and holds his neck, forcing him to look up. His belongings are scattered on the table in front of us: a helmet, a gas mask, and a loud-speaker. "What were you doing with a loud-speaker?" shouts an officer. "What would your dad say?" My fellow detainee responds by continuously bursting into tears.

A policeman takes my bag and asks me if I have a knife, which I don't. He takes my camera, microphone, and notebook and hands them to his colleagues. In the corner of my eye I see them struggling to translate pages of my redundant notes from last year into Turkish, but that's only the beginning of my problems. A group of plain-clothed policemen approach me, led by a wiry young man with slick, gelled hair and a trendy black suit. He looks at me and smiles oddly. Something I scribbled in my notebook last year has caught his attention: Reyhanlı.

Last August, I visited this small border town to try and write a story on the Syrian conflict next-door. It looks like my interrogator thinks I'm somehow connected with the bombings that killed more than fifty people there in May, which seems to me totally insane.

But maybe their suspicion is hardly surprising: I don't have my press card or my passport, and I did spend the best part of a month last year hanging around shady border towns in search of a story. "No, I was visiting my family in Hatay last year," I stammer in broken Turkish. "I visited Reyhanlı to try and do a story about Syria." He cuts me off: "you're lying."He disappears around the corner, where I can hear him shouting for a translator.

My legs are aching: I have stood in the same spot for over two hours and I need a drink. I begin to wonder when - and how - it will end. Finally, an hour later, an officer takes my bag along with all my gear. Five minutes later he returns and leads me out, where my wiry interrogator is waiting. "You're not going to use your camera again, are you?" he asks. I tell him what he wants to hear, take my things, and leave. To this day I still can't figure out what made them decide to let me go.

On the way back home, I grab a taxi. There's no way I'm threading my way on foot through police lines at the risk of being arrested and brought back into custody. The next day, I catch a bus out of Istanbul to see my family.

I spend my last days in Turkey with my uncle in Iskenderun, in the south, watching him take part in peaceful demonstrations along the seafront. For me, getting back to routine is as easy as catching a plane back to France. But I leave my family and friends worrying where these events will take their country, and them.

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