Austrian journalist Max Zirngast appears before court

11 April 2019

Ankara - Austrian journalist and Ankara resident Max Zirngast appeared before court during the first hearing of the trial where he faces “membership in a terrorist organization” charges. In his defense statement, Zirngast rejected the allegations and said: “I’m not a spy. I wrote critical articles in Toplumsal Özgürlük journal. Is it a crime to criticize?” The court ruled for the continuation of Zirngast's travel ban and adjourned the trial until 11 September. 

The hearing was held at Ankara 26th High Criminal Court today. Defendants Max Zirngast, Hatice Göz, Burçin Tekdemir, Mithatcan Türetken and their defense lawyers Murat Yılmaz and Bülent Teoman Özkan were present in the courtroom.

As part of this investigation, journalist Max Zirngast was detained for three months. Before beginning his defense statement, Zirngast stated that he wanted to present his defense in his native language German and further noted that the court required him to provide a translator himself. Explaining that he wouldn’t want to pay for a translator as a principle, Zirngast said that he will defend himself in Turkish.

“I’m not a spy, only a journalist”

Zirngast reminded the court that Sabah daily began a defamation campaign for him following his arrest, primarily with a news story titled “Spying concealed behind journalism.” Zirngast added: “Law enforcement has tried to create the image of a spy with similar allegations and insinuations. I am not a spy. I’ve never claimed to be one. For some reason, all foreigners who live in Turkey are perceived as spies, especially if they know the language and are interested in the country’s politics. There are many Turks in Austria as well. I defended their right to freedom of expression as well. I stand for universal principles. I’m not against Turkey. I love this country, I’ve set up my life here. I came to this country in 2015. Bombs were going right and left, then the coup attempt happened. Many people left Turkey but I am still here but I feel like I’m in the purgatory at the moment. They’re not issuing my residency permit as if I’m a criminal. I can’t go back to Austria to visit my family due to the travel ban.”

Noting that he wrote articles for the Toplumsal Özgürlük journal, Zirngast said that he’s being accused of membership in a terrorist organization for his critical articles on the general election of 24 June 2018: “I’ve provided a critical approach to political developments in Turkey. Is it a crime to criticize? I used to write about Turkey as a journalist even before I moved here. My articles are just structural analyses and commentary. I have never insulted anyone. That journal is a legal publication. I’m a socialist. I’ve never had part in any illegal activities. I did not defend illegal activities in my articles. I expressed my political stance and practiced my journalism as transparently as possible, I’ve never hidden anything.”

Reminding that Hikmet Kıvılcımlı’s books, which were confiscated during the police raid targeting his home, Zirngast said: “While I was studying at Middle East Technical University, I made a presentation on Kıvılcımlı as part of a course titled ‘Political Ideologies in Turkey.’ Books found in my apartment are presented as evidence against me. What are they an evidence of? These are not illegal books. Bookstores sell them. I have many books in my apartment, they’ve cherry-picked one and are trying to create a false image of me.”

Zirngast stated that everything he has done should be considered within the freedom of expression, academia, and travel and requested his travel ban to be lifted. Zirngast also requested his acquittal.

The court rejected Zirngast’s request for his international travel ban to be lifted and adjourned the trial until 11 September. The only judiciary control measure that’s been revoked for Zirngast is the weekly obligation to give a signature at the police station.