Fight for Turkish democracy continues, says acquitted Austrian journalist

Turkey remains far from free despite recent judicial rulings that seem to point toward a softening on dissent, said an analysis in Jacobin magazine. 

Last week, a Turkish court acquitted Austrian writer Max Zirngast and his two Turkish colleagues, who had been charged a year ago with membership in a terrorist organisation and spent three and a half months in prison.

“I was the beneficiary of a solidarity campaign from the very beginning that spanned from Vienna to New York and which brought my case to the attention of mainstream media outlets and Austrian state officials. This is critical to note because it shows what international solidarity can achieve,” Zirngast wrote for Jacobin, warning observers not to get too excited about a possible softening within Turkish courts. 

“Turkey’s judicial institutions are in shambles. Trials take forever, and officials’ work is very often sloppy,” he said, blaming these failures on the mass purges that followed Turkey’s failed coup in July 2016. “In recent years, many officials have been replaced by young and inexperienced personnel.”

Zirngast also pointed to a shift in power within state apparatuses since the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was dealt a blow after the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost several major cities in elections earlier this year. This has led to multiple positive court decisions, and persecuted academics getting acquitted, he said.

Yet earlier this month, Canan Kaftancıoğlu, the Istanbul chair of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), received a nearly 10-year prison sentence for tweets from six years ago. And last month, Erdoğan’s government removed the mayors of Turkey’s three largest Kurdish-majority cities. 

Zirngast said the struggle for systemic reform and genuine democracy in Turkey must continue.

“They will claim we are terrorists, keep us in pre-trial detention, prosecute us in interminable trials - anything to hamper popular-democratic and socialist efforts. Yet despite everything, we will carry on,” he said. “Their weapon is brute force. Ours is solidarity.”