Austrian journalist arrested in Turkey

Austria now has its first political prisoner in Turkey: 29-year-old Max Zirngast was taken into custody on September 20 following a judge's decision.

Christine Tragler
Christine Tragler Der Standard, Austria
Source: Der Standard
Austrian journalist arrested in Turkey - NewsMavens
Free Max Zirngast, Twitter

Why this story matters:

Originally from Austria, Max Zirngast has been living in Turkey for the last three years. There, he studied political science at the Technical University of the Middle East in Ankara, one of the last higher education institutions in Turkey that is not under the government's influence.

The 29-year-old speaks fluent Turkish, gives lectures and writes for left-wing online media. He is also affiliated with Marxist and pro-Kurdish associations.

He is critical of Erdoğan, and often comments on opportunities for political change.

Last week, he was arrested on charges of ties to the little-known communist group TKP / Kıvılcım, which is banned in Turkey. Judges and prosecutors ruled that books on the Marxist politician Hikmet Kıvılcımlı (1902-1971), who were found during a search of Zirngast's apartment, were sufficient proof.

"I'm a socialist, I defend the value of freedom," Zirngast said in his interrogation on Thursday, according to Turkish media.

The determination with which the Turkish judiciary sought to arrest the Austrian could be interpreted as political -- in which case Zirngast would have to be considered a political prisoner.

Analysts believe this may be a sign of the growing strain under which Erdoğan finds himself because of the country's recent economic problems. By taking political prisoners, he could be attempting to gain leverage in his negotiations with Europe.

In the meantime, a solidarity campaign for Max Zirngast is requesting the immediate release of the author and activist.

Details from the story:

  • 29-year-old Austrian student and author Max Zirngast has been arrested as part of a broader crackdown on the left-wing Turkish party TÖPG.
  • According to earlier statements, Max Zirngast was involved in the HDK (Democratic People's Congress), an alliance of left-wing groups to which the TÖPG also belongs, and from which the pro-Kurdish parliamentary party HDP emerged.
  • The 29-year-old from Styria is alleged to have helped in the election campaign of the HDP.
  • Two members of the Party for Social Freedom (TÖPG) were also taken into custody.
  • All were arrested in a raid in Ankara and Hatay on September 11 and then put into police custody.
  • Pre-trial detention may last several years in Turkey, but must be renewed by a judge every 30 days upon request.
  • More than 50,000 people landed in Turkish prisons in the summer of 2016 following the failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
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