Turkish court acquits Austrian activist, lifts travel ban: lawyer

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A Turkish court on Wednesday acquitted an Austrian student, activist and journalist of terrorism charges and lifted his travel ban, according to his lawyer, who called his detainment last year “unjust and unlawful.”

Max Zirngast was accused of being a member of a leftist terrorist organization based on a number of articles he wrote about Turkey, and on demonstrations in which he took part while in the country.

A political science student who writes for the far-left online publication Re:volt, Zirngast had been jailed for some three months last year before his trial began. The arrest a year ago had prompted former Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz to demand an explanation from Ankara.

Lawyer Murat Yilmaz told Reuters on Wednesday the court had acquitted Zirngast of the charges and lifted a travel ban that was imposed in December.

“Max had no links to any illegal organization but we couldn’t explain this to the prosecutors. They did not want to understand,” he said. “Justice was served today but Max’s detention and arrest were unjust and unlawful.”

Three others, who were being tried in the same case, were also acquitted, the lawyer said.

Ties between Turkey and some European Union countries including Austria have been strained by a wave of arrests made as part of a security crackdown by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan following a failed military coup in July 2016.

Turkey has detained around 160,000 people, including many journalists, and dismissed nearly the same number of civil servants since the putsch attempt, the U.N. human rights office said early last year. Of that number, more than 50,000 have been formally charged and kept in jail during their trials.

Zirngast told Reuters he was surprised the acquittal verdict came so early.

“Turkey has not become a democracy because of this decision. It is a positive development. There are still tens of thousands of political prisoners,” he said.

He said he would continue to work on Turkey but return to Austria after a seven-day period, during which an objection to the verdict can be filed, is over.

Fred Turnheim, president of the Austrian Journalist Association, welcomed the ruling.

“Only international pressure on the Turkish regime made this acquittal possible,” he said in a statement. “I would like to thank all the people who made this acquittal possible.”

Additional reporting by Kirsti Knolle in Vienna; Editing by Jonathan Spicer

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