What’s this all about?

Picture of Max Zirngast
Max Zirngast

The journalist, political scientist and activist Max Zirngast was arrested early in the morning of September 11 in his home in Ankara and transferred to custody on September 20, 2018. The “#FreeMaxZirngast Solidarity Campaign” is campaigning for the immediate release of Max Zirngast. We are using public relations and solidarity actions to put political pressure on the governments in Austria and Turkey. At the same time, we try to provide specific support to Max Zirngast and other detainees and to use their letters and the support of the local structures (friends, comrades, family, lawyers) to support them during pre-trial detention.

Chronology of events

The freelance journalist, political scientist and activist Max Zirngast (29) has been in detention in Turkey since September 11, 2018. After completing his studies of Philosophy in Vienna, he went to Turkey in September 2015. He had already immeresed himself in the study of Turkish history and culture and was a fluent Turkish speaker. There, he continued his political science studies at the Technical University of the Middle East (ODTÜ). He wrote for many different national and international media, such as for the re:volt magazine, the Junge Welt in Germany and the US-American Jacobin, among others. He never made a secret of his political convictions.

11 September, 2018

On September 11, 2018, in the early hours of the morning, between 5 and 5:30 am, anti-terrorist police units storm Max Zirngast’s home in Ankara, and detain him, accusing him of “membership in a terrorist organization.” Specific details are not mentioned. Persons present at the scene can see that his search warrant accused him of his activities in an alternative school for poorer children in the Tuzluçayır neighborhood of Ankara. In a parallel action, the two Turkish left activists Hatice Göz and Mithatcan Türetken are also arrested.

The editors of re: volt magazine, which Max Zirngast was a member and contributor of, are the first to publish the initial news on the arrest of her colleague. Numerous international media are taking up the case.

Government spokesman Peter Launsky emphasizes that Austria unconditionally supports freedom of the press and opinion. He calls on the Turkish government to present the reasons for the arrest of Max Zirngast or to release him immediately.

Reporters Without Borders Austria’s President Rubin Möhring strongly condemns the imprisonment of Max Zirngast and demands his immediate release. “Differing political opinions should not be the basis for arrests or intimidation! But in Turkey, this is happening increasingly, “says Rubina Möhring.

The President of the Austrian Journalists’ Club (ÖJC), Fred Turnheim, demands the immediate release of Max Zirngast: “The arrest of an Austrian journalist by Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his henchmen was to be expected after numerous Austrian politicians pointed out the human rights violations in Turkey. Recep Tayyip Erdogan has now procured himself a new hostage, “said Turnheim.

In a statement, the Jacobin to which Max Zirngast was a regular contributor, states:

“One of our authors, Max Zirngast, was taken into police custody by the Turkish police under the pretext of terrorism allegations. This is a terrible restriction of democratic rights.”

12 September, 2018

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) and his Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache (FPÖ) call on Turkey to substantiate the allegations against Max Zirngast or to release him immediately.

Austrian Foreign Minister Karina Kneissl joins Kurz and Strache and announces that the Max Zirngast cause is a “consular case”. She could not see any indication of a burden on bilateral relations; in addition, she sees no need so far to contact her Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. She assures Max Zirngast of all support and emphasizes that freedom of expression and of the press are fundamental rights and thus pillars of the international order.

The German daily newspaper Junge Welt, for which Max Zirngast wrote, issues a press release. In it, Michael Merz, managing editor of Junge Welt, emphasizes: “We urge the Turkish authorities to release our colleague immediately and unconditionally. The re-arrest of a critical journalist shows once again that there is no turning away from the repression and suppression of dissenting opinions in Ankara. Even though Max Zirngast is an Austrian citizen, his arrest should be reason enough for the German Federal Government to cancel the forthcoming state visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Hostage takers do not deserve a red carpet! ”

14 September, 2018

The police apparently employs unlawful means to try and put pressure on Max Zirngast. An IS suspect was briefly put into the cell with Max Zirngast. In addition, police officers invited Max Zirngast to an unlawful “friendly preliminary talk” in which they asked him about the possession of left books and his interest in Turkey. When Max Zirngast did not cooperate, they threatened to have him deported.
At the same time, the prosecutor applies for the first extension of police custody on the grounds that he has not yet sifted through “all the material”. It is granted.

Students and staff members of the university express their solidarity with Max Zirngast in a statement, which is disseminated via the APA-OTS. The statement reads as following (excerpt):

“We are convinced that the allegations against him are a baseless excuse to intimidate and silence critical voices in the Turkish public. Max Zirngast, like many other people in Turkey, is being persecuted for his political conviction and journalistic work. We strongly condemn the arrest of Max Zirngast and demand his immediate release: On the part of the Austrian government and diplomacy, every effort should be made to secure his release.”

16 September, 2018

There is now a (German) Wikipedia article about Max Zirngast.

18 September, 2018

ÖJC President Fred Turnheim describes Max Zirngast as “a hostage to the despotic Erdoğan” and urges Chancellor and EU Council President Sebastian Kurz to raise the issue of “massive human rights violations in Turkey at the meeting of Heads of State and Government and support the release of all journalists currently in jail in Turkey.” Turnheim adds that he regrets that “the Austrian Chancellor and his Foreign Minister failed to free the independent Austrian journalist Max Zirngast from Erdogan’s prisons. Police detention, without a judicial decision, can take more than a year in Turkey, as is evident from the case of the correspondent of the German daily newspaper Die Welt, Deniz Yücel.”

In the evening, the anti-terrorist police announce that police custody has been extended for another four days.

19 September, 2018

re:volt magazine calls for a solidarity campaign. A first meeting is scheduled for the evening of September 26, 2018, in Vienna.

20 September, 2018

“I am a socialist, I defend universal values” – Max Zirngast in front of the magistrate

After nine days in police custody, Max and the other detainees are being brought before a prosecutor and a magistrate on September 20. According to the interrogation protocol at the prosecutor’s office, Max Zirngast is accused exclusively of possessing left books, articles written by him, possession of pictures and articles, and his contact with activists of legal left-wing organizations. Although the judiciary has nothing against Max Zirngast and the charges are still undisclosed and unfinished, the responsible magistrate imposes pre-trial detention. In Turkey, this can last for years.

26 September, 2018

Interested parties meet at 7 pm at the Semperdepot in Vienna for the initial founding meeting of the solidarity campaign “#FreeMaxZirngast”. Among the more than 40 attendees are the former deputy of the National Assembly for the Green party, Berîvan Aslan, philosopher Prof. Dr. med. Karl Reitter, employees of various institutes of the University of Vienna, the political scientist and academic Thomas Schmidinger as well as members and representatives of Reporters without Borders Austria (ROG Austria), the Austrian Students’ Union (ÖH), the Socialist Youth (SJ), Avesta Association for free women of Kurdistan, the HDP Europe, the Labor Party (PdA), the KOMintern union initiative, the news agency ETHA, the Federation for Democratic Rights in Austria (ADHF), Asyl in Not, feminist and anti-racist activists and many old friends and fellow student of Max.

During the meeting, the participants discuss different forms of action such as rallies, letter and postcard campaigns, solidarity pics and videos, and they form a coordination committee. The committee announces that more information and action proposals will be released soon on the campaign’s Facebook, Twitter and web pages.

“We follow your solidarity actions. That is good for us and honors us very much. I greet and thank all those who show solidarity. “The first message from Max Zirngast reaches the outside world and will be published the day after.

27 September, 2018

Austrian President Van der Bellen and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan meet in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Van der Bellen also addresses the case of Max Zirngast and asks Erdoğan to find a solution.

28 September, 2018

One day after the informal meeting between the Austrian Federal President Van der Bellen and the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Austrian consul is allowed  to visit Max Zirngast in his cell for the first time. A spokesman for the Foreign Office welcomes the solidarity campaign “#FreeMaxZirngast” saying: “Everything that benefits Mr. Zirngast is welcomed by us.”

1 October, 2018

According to APA-OTS, the jury of “Dr. Karl Renner Journalism Award “nominates Max Zirngast for the” Dr. Karl Renner Solidarity Award “2018. The Dr. Ing. Karl Renner Solidarity Award was founded in 2017 and awarded to journalists Deniz Yücel and Meşale Tolu detained in Turkey. In its explanation of the nomination, ÖJC president and jury chairman Fred Turnheim said: “We hereby declare our solidarity with Erdogan’s 1st Austrian hostage and demand his immediate release. Journalistic research on AKP and Kurds is not a crime, but the job of journalists. ”

11 October, 2018

The “Thursday demonstrations” against the government (initially launched when the far-right FPÖ came to power in a coalition with the conservative OVP in 2000) are re-launched under the motto “It’s Thursday again!” Aimed to protest social cuts and human rights, they are one way to make a greater public aware of Max’s situation and the campaign. The demonstration on 11th October also includes a speech by a participant in the solidarity campaign.

13 October, 2018

At an evening rally on the Bundesländerplatz in Vienna on freedom of the press and diversity of opinion, the imprisonment of Max Zirngast is also discussed.

18 October, 2018

On 18 September 2018, one week after the initial arrest of Max Zirngast, a decision of the 4th Peace Criminal Court in Ankara was issued to lawyer T. Doğan. The request of the investigating senior prosecutor to exclude Doğan from the trial and a further year, based on a legal action brought against him in March 2016 for “PKK support was granted. Doğan appealed. Now there is a decision of the 5th Peace Criminal Court in Ankara dated October 5, which dealt with the appeal and confirmed the decision of the senior prosecutor.

Doğan will now appeal to the Constitutional Court. “They are not afraid to openly violate their own laws and pretend that the decrees issued during the state of emergency are still in force,” Doğan told the solidarity campaign #FreeMaxZirngast. What he addresses is the ban on representing his client in court, despite his express wish.

In the afternoon in Vienna, there is a solidarity event for Max Zirngast and Zehra Doğan, a detained journalist of a women’s news agency in Turkey: a collective letter campaign at the WUK (University of Economic Sciences), which also offers a free on-the-spot translation service into Turkish.

19 October, 2018

Speaking in front of the Foreign Policy Committee of the Austrian National Council,  Austrian Foreign Minister Kneissl, also mentions the Causa Max Zirngast. According to the APA report, she notes “that she has called for fair process with the Turkish Foreign Minister. As in all these cases, the path of diplomacy would be pursued, but a media hype would be counterproductive. ”

Furthermore, it states:
“The Foreign Minister had little news to report regarding the arrested Austrian, Max Zirngast. He is still in custody and is actively assisted by the embassy in Ankara. It was a special concern to her to ensure that he regularly receives parental visits. Unfortunately, it is currently not possible to estimate how long the pre-trial detention will take. As soon as the case comes to court, he will also be allocated a permanent observer. The case is of course addressed at various political meetings, said Kneissl, who in these kinds of cases advocates for the route of “silent diplomacy”.

The new website freemaxzirngast.org is now online.

22 October, 2018

In a statement entitled “Appeasement is not appropriate here”, the solidarity campaign #FreeMaxZirngast criticizes the approach by Foreign Minister Kneissl. It states, among other things:
“We know of no case of silent diplomacy in the face of the Erdoğan regime which would have led to premature release from unrightful detention. So far, on the contrary, only political and civil society pressure as well as public awareness through media efforts have made a difference – see the cases Deniz Yücel, Peter Steudtner or Meşale Tolu. And last but not least, there is the case of Pastor Andrew Brunson: he sat in Turkish prison for two whole years for fabricated reasons. Then US President Donald Trump – his motives nonwithstanding – applied additional pressure and within three months Pastor Brunson was free.”

25 October, 2018

The Austrian National Council unanimously adopted by all five political factions moved resolution proposal 398 / A (E). Among other things, it calls on ” the government to work on the improvement of the situation of journalists and opposition politicians in Turkey in the spirit of freedom and fundamental rights. It was also important to address the human rights concerns of the Kurdish civilian population in exchanges with Turkish decision-makers. ”
At the request of the Communist Trade Union Initiative (KOMintern), a majority of the Chamber of Labor of Austria (AK) calls on the Austrian Federal Government to step up efforts to release Max Zirngast. “Public criticism of a regime should not be a reason for political repression or even imprisonment. We urge the Austrian Federal Government to immediately intensify its efforts to secure the release of the journalist,” said Barbara Teiber, chairwoman of the Private Employees’ Union (GPA-djp) and Vice-President of the AK. The Vienna Workers’ Parliament is urgently demanding the same, as the Austrian government has so far been mostly standing by idly”.

31 October, 2018

The first long letter by Max Zirngast, dated October 18, reaches the editors of the solidarity campaign #FreeMaxZirngast. The editors publish a shortened, edited and translated version of it. In it Max tells everyday life in prison, the events of the last weeks and the conditions of imprisonment.

The biggest socialist party of the USA, the Democratic Socialists of America, publish a declaration in which they demand freedom for Max Zirngast and condemn the political repression against journalists and dissidents in Turkey.