Turkey gets head of Kurdish news agency arrested in Belgium

by Ana Ribeiro

After restricting a German comedian’s freedom of speech over a satirical poem on President Erdoğan, the Turkish state's hand has reached even more firmly into the EU against the media - with the arrest of a Kurd in Belgium.

Turkey fortress_900X600 The oppressive Turkish state once again gets its way against the media in Europe, targeting a Kurdish journalist, who is now out on bail after a stint in a Belgian prison. Photo: public domain

Maxime Azadi, who runs the Netherlands-based Kurdish news agency ANF, was stopped and arrested in Belgium and then released on bail in late December. Turkish authorities had been investigating Azadi’s reporting on the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) and blacklisted him as a possible collaborator with the PKK, considered a terrorist organisation.

The case involves ANF’s publication in March 2013 of “the identities of people considered responsible for the deaths of PKK militants,” French-language news site 7sur7 reports. Turkish officials deemed the publication of the names a harmful interference into their own investigation regarding the culprits.

Azadi is well-established in Europe, connected with and outspoken regarding the Kurdish and Turkish issues.

Reaching into European borders

According to the Council of Europe’s “media freedom alerts” section, Turkey got both Belgium and Interpol involved in the case, with a “red notice” being issued for Azadi’s detention. The Interpol website describes a “red notice” as “a request to locate and provisionally arrest an individual pending extradition,” rather than an international arrest warrant per se.

Interpol puts out the alert to “police all around the world” after a member country files a request for the notice along with information on a suspect, and it is accepted - but it is not legally binding unless other countries’ authorities decide to make it so. On 16 December, in the Belgian city of Turnhout, a judge ruled in favor of an arrest warrant for Azadi; his attorney filed a motion for his release three days later, and Azadi obtained it on 23 December upon making bail.

Maxime Azadi Twitter Screenshot from Maxime Azadi's Twitter

Besides running ANF News, Azadi is active as a blogger for French investigative platform Mediapart and also has a Twitter account. He openly criticises the Erdoğan regime online and closely follows the collapse of human rights in Turkey under the extended “state of emergency” after the July 2016 coup attempt.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) called Azadi's arrest a "dangerous precedent that could threaten the security of Kurdish and Turkish journalists exiled in Europe".

Speaking out

On 29 December, Azadi blogged about his ordeal in Belgium, where he had gone on hunger strike and faced precarious conditions in jail. He had been confined to his cell 24 hours a day, with the toilet in the same space where he had to eat and sleep, and was not allowed to make phone calls. He defended his innocence, while condemning his treatment as a “terrorist” and “illegal alien” even though he’s a journalist and an EU citizen.

Azadi also expressed outrage that the authorities would give credence to accusations coming from the oppressive Turkish regime. He suggested he narrowly avoided extradition to Turkey, where he could face up to 25 years in prison because of his news agency’s reporting.

“In two weeks, in a European country, I had gotten to know the Interpol, a cell in a police station, prison, isolation and the threat of extradition to a country headed by a despot. It is the story of the complicity of the European authorities with Turkey and a series of injustices and absurdities.”


You can read the full post on the journalist's ordeal, in French, on Azadi’s Mediapart blog, Au-delà de l'information (“Beyond the information”).

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