Account of 24 hours in police custody in Istanbul from 10am on March 16, 2009 to the morning of March 17, 2009*, by Ann-Kathrin Schneider, International Rivers, March 17, 2009
On March 16, 2009 at 9.30am, Payal Parekh and me unfolded a banner that read "No RISKY DAMS" just before the opening ceremony of the World Water Forum in Istanbul, Turkey. We also shouted "No Risky Dams" about five times. We were in the middle of the balcony of room 7 at the Sütlüce Conference Center in Istanbul.
The banner stayed up for about one minute -- after that, security forces took the banner. One minute later, security forces asked us to leave the room. We stayed outside of the conference room with about ten security and police officers for some minutes, while they checked our IDs, which they kept.
After that, they escorted us to a police room inside of the Sütlüce Conference Center where they wrote a statement of events, in Turkish. They asked us to sign the statement, which we refused because we didn't understand what the statement said. We asked for a translation of the statement, sentence by sentence, which we did not get.
After that, they led us to a car and drove us to a hospital. They did not take our cell phones away from us, so we were able to inform our friends about the developments. At the hospital, they led us to a doctor who asked us whether we had suffered any injuries, we said that we hadn't, she signed some papers, and we were escorted back to the car.
The police drove us to Hadic Merkezi Police Station in Beyoglu, Istanbul. There, a female policy officer did a body search on the two of us and they took our jewellery and our money, recorded everything we had, and gave it back to us.
Two lawyers, organized with the help of Turkish friends, arrived. We told them what had happened. The police finalized their statement and asked us to sign it. The lawyers translated the Turkish statement sentence by sentence. Since some details of the statement did not correspond with how we recalled the events of that morning, we refused to sign the statement and asked to give our own account of the morning's events.
Payal then reported the events of the morning to a policy officer. The lawyers helped translating her English into Turkish and the police officer wrote down the statement in Turkish. The lawyers translated the statement for us and both Payal and me signed the statement.
We then waited until about 5pm when our lawyers were called to talk to the head of the police station. The lawyers came back informing us that we had to leave the country within a couple of hours if we did not want to be put in prison for more than one year. They explained to us that our crime was that we tried to influence public opinion with the unfolding of the banner.
With the help of friends from Turkey and abroad we organized plane tickets for Payal to go back to the United States and for me to go back to Germany in the morning of Tuesday, March 17.
We were then taken to another police station and had photographs and fingerprints taken and were measured and weighed. After about one hour, we were sent back to the other police station, where we had spent the early afternoon, and spent the night there on some chairs in an office. We declined the invitation to sleep in the downstairs women's cell. A Turkish friend brought us our luggage from the hotel and we left the police station at about 6am in the morning towards the airport, in a police car.
We reached the airport at around 6.30am on Tuesday, March 17 and spent another one and a half hours at the police station at Istanbul airport, before being escorted to the check-in desk and the gate by a police officer.
The customs officer told me that I was banned from entering Turkey for two years. At the gate, the police officer gave me my boarding pass and ID.
We did not receive any documents describing what crime we were convicted of and the charges. We do not know who ordered our deportation, whether it was the police or a public prosecutor.