Turkish court rules for pretrial detention of Austrian journalist Zirngast over ‘terror offences’

A Turkish court ruled for the pretrial detention of Austrian journalist Max Zirngast and two Turkish nationals over their alleged membership in a terrorist organization, according to a report by the Cumhuriyet newspaper on Friday.

Zirngast has been living in Turkey since 2015 and works for Austrian left-wing magazine re:volt’. He was detained last week by Turkish counterterrorism police.

Prosecutors said Zirngast was a member of a Turkish leftist terror organization and presented as evidence his volunteer work for Campus Witches, a group of female college students fighting against violence and harassment of women at universities, and an environmental group known as Nature’s Children.

“I am a socialist. I support universal values,” Zirngast said in court. He denied any affiliation with a terrorist organization and said he was about to buy a house to permanently settle in Turkey.

Zirngast was also questioned about possessing books written by Turkish communist author and politician Hikmet Kıvılcımlı. “I prepared a presentation on Hikmet Kıvılcımlı while I was studying at Middle East Technical University [ODTÜ]. That’s the reason why I have his books in my house,” Zirngast said.

Turkey, the most notorious country in the world in terms of jailing journalists, has also come after foreign reporters in an ever-escalating crackdown on freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

A recent report by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) titled “The Clampdown on Foreign Journalists in Turkey” explains in detail how reporters from other countries face serious obstacles in Turkey that at times suggest a deliberate, systematic and calibrated policy by the government is, in fact, being implemented.

Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 237 journalists and media workers were in jail as of September 6, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 169 were under arrest pending trial while only 68 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 147 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

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