A former soldier in the British army has been sentenced to seven and a half years in a Turkish prison for terrorism offences after fighting Islamic State with a Western-allianced Kurdish militia in Syria.
Joe Robinson, 25, from Leeds, was sentenced on Friday in a Turkish court, according to The Times, but remains on bail and plans to appeal the conviction.
Mr Robinson, an army veteran who served in Afghanistan, had volunteered with the People’s Protection Units of Syrian Kurdistan (YPG) for five months in 2015, fighting Islamic State — though he and his family maintain he was serving as a medic.
It was while on holiday with his fiancé, Mira Rojkan, and his mother in south-west Turkey in July 2017 that he was arrested and charged with membership of a terrorist organisation. He was imprisoned for four months before being bailed in November — but was unable to leave the country.
Ms Rojkan was also arrested and charged with distributing “terrorist propaganda” by a Turkish court after she had shared Facebook posts with the Kurdish flag and links to Kurdish songs on YouTube.
Turkey has been accused of suppressing its large Kurdish minority (some 18 percent of the country’s population) resulting in decades of state human rights abuses and terrorism from separatist factions, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which is proscribed in Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The near-east nation, headed by Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is hostile towards the YPG for its ties to the PKK, despite it being partners with the Western alliance in the fight against Islamic State, having helped liberate ISIS stronghold Raqqa in October 2017.
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— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) March 19, 2018
A representative from the Kurdistan Solidarity Campaign praised Mr Robinson for “selflessly” fighting Islamic State, saying: “Joe is a hero to all who value peace and freedom against the dark forces of oppression, enslavement, rape and terrorism which IS represent.”
“Unfortunately, Joe has gone on holiday to Turkey not realising the kind of state it has now become,” it added.
“Turkey unfortunately continues to criminalise the Kurdish question and has jailed tens of thousands of Kurdish people, including elected MPs and mayors simply for peacefully campaigning for Kurdish rights.”
Ms Rojkan condemned the British Foreign Office, saying they had received “very little help” from them.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We have been following this case very closely and have raised it with the Turkish authorities. We stand ready to provide further consular assistance.”
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— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) February 5, 2018
This is not the first instance that British authorities have been criticised for their treatment of British soldiers who volunteer to fight the terror group in Iraq and Syria.
In February, James Matthews, 43, appeared before a court accused of attending a “place used for terrorist training” after he had joined the Western ally YPG in 2015, even appearing in a Channel 4 documentary The Brits Battling ISIS.
It was a first-of-its-kind case, and it is believed Mr Matthews was one of a number of Britons arrested after returning from fighting against Islamist terror groups in the Middle East.
Charges were later dropped, with Mr Matthews’ lawyer accusing the Attorney General of bringing the prosecution for what at the time suited a political agenda for the government, as NATO ally Turkey is an important market for British arms sales.
However, a “significant portion” of the more than 400 Islamic State fighters who have returned have not been prosecuted, with the UK’s anti-terror tsar believing they had “travelled out of a sense of naivety” and should be reintegrated rather than punished.