Harassed by Cops in Istanbul: A Journalist's Experience (VIDEO)

06/17/2013 02:51 pm ET | Updated Aug 17, 2013
  • Barry Yourgrau Author of Mess: One Man's Struggle to Clean Up His House and His Act

I'm an American writer and journalist in Istanbul right now.
I had a nasty, scary harrassment by plain clothes cops on Sunday, June 16 by Gezi Park. They forced me to delete camere footage. I did as instructed on the spot (see details below).
Somehow a Youtuber called MrELWisty got hold of the deleted footage. (Digital technology is miraculous; EL Wisty by the way was one of the comic personas of the great English comic Peter Cook).
Context: on Saturday morning I went up to Taksim, which had been brutally cleared by police the night before. Police tape kept the public out. I showed my press card (from an American art mag) and was allowed through. Gezi Park itself was off limits still (still is). I shot pics. Even cops were taking pics of the Republic monument.

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Then, still behind police tape, I wandered down Cumhurriyet Blvd alongside Gezi Park. Cumhurriyet is like a construction site, being renovated for an underground tunnel. Where it reaches the end of park, there's Divan Hotel -- the site of awful gas attacks from the night before.

A crowd of protesters had gathered in front of Divan Hotel; cops watched idly with a water cannon opposite. I wandered up and filmed from behind the police line. Plain clothes guys suddenly appeared. They furiously berated me, shouted at me to clear off. I did--"Pardon pardon!"-- even though I was there by what seemed to be their protocol.

Now outside of the police line, I stood in the street and filmed Divan Hotel, then panned 360.

Big mistake.

The last part of my shot inadvertently included those plain clothes cops who were now walking past.

I was grabbed by both arms, and pulled and muscled away. I shouted that I was a journalist, protested, "Please please!" -- the abjectness of the civil-unrest amateur. There was panic that I had finally, inanely gotten myself in serious trouble. (A Russian journo had been badly beaten for taking pics of cop vehicles in Taksim a night or two before; I'd been made to delete photos.) This was all happening right in public. They hauled me over behind the rear of a police bus in the intersection and bellowed at me to spread my legs. They patted my upper leg area down, pulled out my fold-up umbrella from my back pocket (it was an Xmas gift), then found my camera in my other back pocket, bellowed at me to show pictures, then bellowed furiously, "Delete! DELETE QUICKLY!!"

Hands shaking I deleted, so I thought. They saw this, then shoved me to be off, roaring at me like mastiffs. I lurched away, exclaiming in a shaking voice to onlookers, "American journalist!" Stares.

I made my way home on rubbery legs, the camera buried in my pocket, slinking along police lines -- no proud cry of "American journalist!" to get inside closed-off areas. The situation had gotten, well, scary. And I thought I'd deleted my camera load from past 24 hours of mayhem, because of my blitheness.

Istanbul -- no city for happy-go-lucky amateurs.

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