Dec 01 2018

My arrest is perverse confirmation of authoritarianism in Turkey, jailed Austrian journalist says

Turkey’s current understanding of “terrorism,” and everything that is and will be crushed under that pretext will only create more animosity toward the regime in the future, said Austrian journalist and socialist activist Max Zirngast on Friday in an op-ed he wrote from his prison cell in Turkey for the Washington Post. 

Zirngast was taken under custody in Sept. 11 in Ankara with two Turkish nationals by the anti-terror police.

Zirngast, who studied philosophy and political sciences at the University of Vienna, was continuing his studies at the Middle East Technical University. He has lived in Turkey since 2015 and has given many seminars across the country during this time.

Police found some Marxist literature in Zirngast’s flat, including works by well-known Turkish communist Hikmet Kıvılcımlı, and later charged the trio with membership of the banned Turkish Communist Party (TKP)/Kıvılcım.

Zirngast said over the past few years he had spent in Turkey, he had co-authored many pieces in socialist publications, participated in pro-peace demonstrations and supported democratisation in  Turkey. 

“My actions were enough to put me in the crosshairs,” said Zirngast, referring to Turkish government's abysmal record concerning human rights and press freedom. 

“In police interrogations and in my appearance before the prosecutor in Ankara, the authorities questioned me about the books that had been removed from my apartment (including one on Kurdish politics they mistakenly thought I’d written), my supposed ties to the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (a social-democratic advocacy group that has an office in Istanbul but with which I have no affiliation) and an article I had written for Jacobin (which they said had insulted Erdogan). They declined to formally indict me, holding me instead on vague terrorism charges,” Zirngast said. 

Zirngast said that his arrest was a perverse confirmation of the authoritarianism he had experienced the past several years chronicling and opposing.

“This type of wanton repression generates nothing but anger and hopelessness,” the Austrian journalist said. “Turkey’s current understanding of “terrorism,” and what will be crushed under that pretext, will only create more animosity toward the regime in the coming years.”

“During interrogations, the police set about trying to “figure out” who I am — to peel away the affected layers and find some evil, hidden core. But there is nothing to figure out,” Zirngast said. “I am a socialist and a writer. I have raised my voice for a democratic republic and supported democratic struggles. I stand by everything I have done.”