ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) — Austrian student and journalist, Max Zirngast, and three others have been cleared of terrorism charges by a court in Turkey.
The Turkish-based Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) said Zirngast faced “membership in a terrorist organization” charges at the Ankara 26th High Criminal Court.
In the verdict delivered by an Ankara court, four people including Zirngast, were acquitted “on the basis that there was insufficient evidence to rule for conviction.”
In a video message, Zirngast confirmed the news and thanked the people who supported the campaign to have him released.
“Warm greetings to everyone, and freedom for all the political prisoners,” he said.
The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom welcomed the verdict, and underlined that all the “accusations against Max Zirngast were groundless.”
Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen in a statement said he was pleased with the decision for Zirngast and his family.
“Although this was a good decision,” he argued, “we should not forget that there are still many journalists in jail in Turkey”.
The Austrian-Kurdish Green MP, Berivan Aslan, on her Twitter account welcomed the news, but added that four other Austrian citizens are banned from leaving Turkey following their arrest.
Another Austrian citizen is unable to leave the country as well, having had their passport confiscated.
“This news is a great relief for us, but the arbitrary nature of justice remains in Turkey,” she said. “Let’s hope that other Austrian citizens will also be acquitted.”
Turkish police arrested Zirngast in September 2018 over charges of “terrorism.”
Zirngast lived in Turkey for many years and had been writing for various German, English, and Turkish-language publications about the Kurds, the state of politics in Turkey, and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Since a failed coup attempt in mid-2016 to overthrow Erdogan, at least 160 journalists, among them Kurds, Turks, and foreigners, have been arrested, tried and sentenced to varying jail times over accusations of supporting terrorism and separatism.
Thomas Schmidinger, a political scientist at the University of Vienna and Zirngast’s former university teacher, told Kurdistan 24 “We are all happy that he is free now. But it remains concerning that he had to stay 3 months in prison and was prevented leaving the country for a year.”
“Many other Turkish citizens, both Kurdish and non-Kurdish, are facing a similar faith in Turkey,” Schmidinger lamented. “As his former university teacher, I am sure he could use the time in prison for research and field work and I am looking forward to read about the results of his [prison] experience.”
Editing by Nadia Riva