On the morning of September 11, our friend and comrade, Max Zirngast, was detained in Ankara, Turkey by anti-terror police along with three other activists. Yesterday, he was formally charged with “being a member of the illegal TKP/K” and placed in pre-trial detention — a sort of legal purgatory that can last years.
As regular readers of Jacobin will know, we have coauthored many pieces with Max over the last few years chronicling Turkey’s slide toward authoritarianism under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. We have never hid our allegiances: for socialism and democracy, against dictatorship and repression.
Max — a native of Austria and a graduate student in political scientist at the Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) — has been active politically since moving to Turkey in 2015. He’s worked for the election campaign of the HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party — a pro-Kurdish leftist party), delivered seminars on Marxism, and organized alternative summer schools for children from poor families. In addition to writing for Jacobin, he has been published in several other, mostly leftist, outlets.
Court proceedings reveal that Max is being held for possessing books by the Turkish Marxist thinker Hikmet Kıvılcımlı (1902-1971) and photographs by militants of various “terror organizations” that were killed in encounters with state forces. But none of this is criminal in any sense and, as Max pointed out in his defense, he is a researcher of Turkish political history — that’s why he keeps a wide array of political and journalistic materials (including even right-wing publications). Regarding the organization “TKP/K,” Max stated that not only was he never involved in any illegal activity but that such an organization does not exist. His lawyer has presented court decisions from Turkey from 2012 and 2015 that acknowledge “an organization named TKP Kıvılcım does not exist.”
The fact that Max’s pre-trial detention was extended twice (from an initial period of four days to twelve days) even as the case remained “confidential” reveals the hollow and baseless character of the accusations and of the whole process. The Turkish judiciary system is operating on a totally arbitrary basis, ignoring legal rights such as the presumption of innocence. Thousands of political prisoners remain in limbo while their trials are adjourned over and over again. In some cases, it takes years until the defendant finally learns what they’re being accused of. All of this has one specific aim: to repress critical voices.
In court, Max stood tall before the prosecutor and the judge, telling them: “I am a socialist, I defend universal values.” Defending his cause and building networks of solidarity is our task now. Friends, colleagues, and comrades of Max will kick off a solidarity campaign in a meeting next Wednesday, at 7 PM in Vienna, Austria. We will quickly work to expand the campaign internationally. All help and support is welcome.
Freedom for all political prisoners, freedom for Max Zirngast!