Photojournalist Andy Spyra was barred from entering Turkey on March 28 because Turkish authorities suspected he was an Islamic militant, according to press reports. Spyra, who was on assignment for Der Spiegel, was stopped at an Istanbul airport, searched, detained and deported to Germany the next day. While in Turkish custody, the German General Consulate protested his detention and attempted to explain that he was a journalist.
Spyra, selected for PDN‘s 30 in 2010, has covered Afghanistan, Egypt, the Syrian refugee crisis, fighting in the Kurdish region of Syria and, last fall, Iraqi Christians currently fighting the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). He was on his way to Turkey to work on a Der Spiegel story about the one-hundredth anniversary of the Armenian genocide.
According to a post on Spyra’s Facebook page dated March 29, he was stopped at immigration at Sabiha Gökcen Airport in Istanbul and questioned for only an hour, while police looked through photos on his phone and went through his luggage. They then returned his phones, but informed him that he would be deported in the morning. He spent the night in what he calls “a cell.” When he arrived in Dusseldorf the next day, German federal police told him that Turkish authorities had reported he had been deported because he was carrying “military-style equipment.” According to Spyra’s Facebook post, “the military equipment in question” was his camera dust-blower, army-style boots and khaki-colored clothing.
That Spyra was covering the anniversary of the Armenian genocide appears not to have been a factor, but Turkey has for decades officially denied that the deaths of Armenians in eastern Turkey at the end of World War I constituted genocide.
According to Committee to Protect Journalists, Turkey currently ranks tenth in the world among the worst jailers of journalists. Last year, Der Spiegel pulled its reporter in Turkey after he received death threats over his reporting on a mine collapse that killed 301 miners in Turkey. Last year the country banned access to Twitter ahead of national elections in March 2014.
In his Facebook post, Spyra advises other photographers who want to cover Turkey: “delete questionable images on your phone, anything that COULD potentially be read and seen in a military context.” He adds, “They WON’T listen to you and don’t give a shit about your papers and press-credentials and whatever else you may carry.”