Turkish gov’t detains Austrian writer Zirngast on terror charges

The Turkish government detained Austrian writer Max Zirngast in Ankara on Tuesday for allegedly publishing terrorist propaganda, according to a Twitter post shared by left-wing Re:volt magazine

Zirngast, an independent commentator who contributed to publications such as the Jacobin magazine, was detained by Turkish police at 5 a.m., along with a group of others, the magazine said.

According to re:volt, Zirngast has lived in Turkey for several years, where he works and is studying. He  is among the authors of the book titled “Siege of Kobane” published in Germany in 2015.

İsmail Küpeli, a political scientist and journalist, wrote on Twitter that Zirngast’s arrest was likely tied to his work, and not to any alleged “terrorist” activities.

“I know Max Zirngast to be a clever person and an exceptional author. We took part in several panel discussions together, where he showed his political stance clearly. This has nothing to do with ‘terrorism,'” he wrote on Twitter.

“Divergent political opinions are no justification for arrests and intimidation, which are happening more and more in Turkey,” Reporters without Borders in Austria said in a statement.

“We expect Turkey to immediately explain what the journalist is accused of, and if that is not possible then to immediately release him,” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told reporters before a weekly cabinet meeting.

Kurz’s government, a coalition of his conservatives and the anti-immigration Freedom Party, is opposed to Turkey joining the European Union and has called for accession talks to be broken off. However, both countries have recently tried to improve their relations.

The Austrian Foreign Ministry said an Austrian had been arrested by Turkish authorities on Tuesday but did not offer any details on whether it was Zirngast.

Austrian Government Spokesperson Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal has issued a statement about Zirngast and urged Turkey to explain reasons for the detention or release the journalist immediately. “Austria sides with freedom of press and expression. We are providing support to our detained citizen via the Austrian Embassy,” said Launsky-Tieffenthal.

“We see that such crackdowns are on rising in Turkey. We condemn this arrest in the strongest terms of course and call for his immediate release,” Re:volt said by email to Reuters.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which Turkey is a party to, also condemned the arrest. “I strongly condemn [the] detention of Austrian journalist Max Zirngast today in Turkey. He was reportedly arrested on terror-related charges for articles he had written. Journalists must not be prosecuted because of their professional work. I urge authorities to release him,” OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Desir, said.

“As Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s despotic government tries to stabilize its dominance, the remaining voices, organizations, and people that oppose him are under extreme pressure. It is critical for the struggle for democracy and freedom in Turkey that Erdoğan not succeeds,” wrote also American Jacobin magazine.

There has been no official statement so far from the Turkish government on the detention of Zirngast.

Since a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016, the Turkish government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been cracking down on media workers who allegedly support or have ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) or the Gülen movement.

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.

Take a second to support SCF on Patreon!