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Austrian Journalist Put in Pretrial Detention on ‘Terrorism’ Charges

A Turkish court ordered an Austrian student and journalist to be kept in jail ahead of a trial on terror charges following his detention last week, his lawyer said on Friday.

Max Zirngast, who writes for the far-left German-language magazine Re:volt, was detained in Ankara on September 11 and formally arrested by the Ankara court late Thursday, his lawyer Tamer Dogan told AFP.

29-year-old journalist was reportedly charged with being a member of an extreme leftist Turkish terror organization that is an offshoot of the Turkish Communist Party (TKP).

He had previously published articles on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (P.K.K.), which has waged an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984.

The P.K.K. is blacklisted as a “terrorist group” by Ankara, as well as the European Union (E.U.) and the United States (U.S.).

The Austrian has been in Turkey for three years and was a masters student at Middle East Technical University (ODTU), one of the country’s most prestigious universities, in the political sciences department.

He is accused of being a member of the TKP/Kivilcim group, which is banned by Turkey as a terror organization.

Two other suspects, Hatice Goz and Mithatcan Turetken, were also kept in jail by the court in the capital on the same charge.

But the lawyer and student claimed such an organization “doesn’t exist”. He added “Max has no links with any illegal organization.”

‘I have not heard of the organization, of which I am accused of being a member’

“He is a journalist working in the scope of the law,” the lawyer insisted, saying Zirngast had also written for and leftist German daily junge Welt.

Zirngast, who defended himself in Turkish, refusing a translator, was quoted by the daily Cumhuriyet as saying in his testimony:

“I am a socialist. I stand for universal values. I’ve been living in Turkey for three years now. I have never been engaged in any clandestine activities. I recently bought a house to start a life. I have not heard of the organization, of which I am accused of being a member. I have not conducted activities on behalf of any illegal organizations. I do translations in German, English and Turkish. I write articles. Most of the books found in my house were written by Hikmet Kivilcimli. I gave a presentation on Hikmet Kivilcimli while I studied at ODTU. This is the reason why I have those in my house.”

Zirngast’s reference Kivilcimli was a well-known Turkish communist leader, theoretician and translator who died in 1971.

Lawyer Dogan confirmed that the student had researched Kivilcimli, and was asked by authorities why he conducted such research.

While pro-government commentators were quick to label Zirngast as a “spy”, some social media users stated that the TKP/Kivilcimli has been obsolete for a long while.

A Twitter user, embedding the news report about Zirngast, said “TKP Kivilcim is the organization they came up with for Max Zirngast. Our police is number one in reviving outdated organizations.”

Another tweet claimed that “Turkey has adopted the policy of taking European citizens hostage and using them as a tool of blackmail”.

The Political Science Society of ODTU, the Turkish university Zirngast attended, also tweeted both in Turkish and English under the hashtag #FreeMaxZirngast, offering solidarity to the jailed journalist.

The Turkish branch of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) shared a message of solidarity for Zirngast, as well.

Since the July 2016 attempted coup and subsequent arrest and conviction of journalists for alleged terror links, rights activists have condemned Ankara’s violations of freedom of expression.

The arrest of Zirngast further risks increasing tensions between Ankara and Vienna, which has angered Turkey by calling for a freeze in its EU membership talks.

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