Anti-terrorist journalist arrested under anti-terrorist laws

Issue 
Journalist Renas Lelikan.

Kurdish-Australian journalist Renas Lelikan was charged under anti-terrorist laws at Parramatta Local Court on July 21 and refused bail. The charges accuse him of being a member of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

He was arrested the previous day in raids by the Australian Federal Police, which also seized more than 2000 emails. The prosecution asked for an adjournment until September, saying police needed time to translate the emails from Turkish. He has another bail hearing on July 28.

The PKK is not a terrorist organisation. It is a movement fighting for the rights of Kurdish people against the genocidal violence of the Turkish state and is an ally of other Kurdish and Kurdish-led movements resisting violence from state and non-state forces in Syria, Iraq and Iran.

The PKK has constantly attempted to engage the Turkish state in a peace process and has initiated numerous unilateral ceasefires. Peace talks began in 2010, leading to a ceasefire in 2013.

However, last year, the Kurdish-led left-wing Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) won enough electoral support to stop the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from winning a two-thirds majority in parliament, which would have allowed for constitutional changes giving Erdogan authoritarian powers.

In response, the government began a crackdown on dissident activists, journalists and academics and launched brutal military assaults against Kurdish cities and towns in the south-east that have killed thousands of civilians. In the face of this, the PKK renewed its armed resistance.

The PKK is closely aligned to revolutionary forces in Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) which have been resisting various terrorist groups, including ISIS and the al Qaeda-aligned Nusra Front, both of which, as well as other terrorist groups, have been given material support by the Turkish state.

In Iraq, when ISIS launched a campaign of genocide against the Yazidi religious minority in the Sengal (Sinjar) region in 2014, it was PKK forces and their Syrian allies who came to their defence after the Western-armed forces of the Iraqi government, and its subsidiary, the Kurdistan Regional Government, ran away. The PKK was crucial in helping Yazidi communities of Sengal establish their own democratic self-organisation and self-defence.

Western governments use the violence of groups like ISIS and al Qaeda to justify draconian anti-terrorist laws. The US, European Union and Australian governments have all kept the PKK listed as a terrorist group, despite having all recognised that the PKK and its allies have been the most effective fighters against ISIS and al Qaeda.

A number of Western politicians and journalists have recognised that the self-administered area of Northern Syria, established by the PKK's allies, has achieved a degree of democracy, ethnic and religious harmony and gender equality unparalleled in the Middle East. Despite this they continue to criminalise the PKK.

Lelikan has spent much the past decade working as a journalist in Europe and the Middle East. In 2011, a French court confiscated his passport after convicting him of PKK membership. He moved to Iraq where he worked for a local news agency.

Last year he made headlines after Australian authorities refused, on security grounds, to reissue his passport. At the time he was in the Makhmur refugee camp in northern Iraq, which was under siege from ISIS. In October, he was granted a temporary Australian travel document and returned to Australia on October 24.

He was detained by the AFP on arrival but released after 12 hours of questioning. “I am not [a threat]. My whole life I have never felt sorry [for what I did]. It was right. I never did anything against our Australian government. Wherever I went I did my job as a journalist,” he told the ABC at the time.

That Australia's anti-terror laws are being used to victimise an anti-terrorist journalist raises questions about their intent.

[In March 2015, the Melbourne-based group Australians for Kurdistan launched a sign-on petition campaign to remove the PKK from the Australian government's list of terrorist groups. Check the website here.]

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