A Turkish court has sentenced a former British soldier to seven-and-a-half years for alleged links to Syria’s Kurdish YPG militia, considered a “terrorist” group by Ankara. Joe Robinson of Leeds was arrested in Turkey in July 2017 after he apparently posted photos of himself in camouflage, posing beside fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria. A court in the western city of Aydin sentenced the 25-year-old for “membership of a terrorist organization” on Sept. 15. Robinson did not attend the trial for health reasons. He is currently on bail and planning an appeal. His Bulgarian fiancée, arrested along with him, was sentenced to nearly two years for “terrorist propaganda,” but she is currently in the United Kingdom. The BBC reports that the fiancée, Mira Rojkan, was given a suspended sentence.
According to British press reports, Robinson served in Afghanistan in 2012 and went to Syria in 2015 to work in the YPG’s health unit. Hundreds of foreign volunteers from countries including Canada, France, Germany and the United States have fought alongside the YPG in its struggle against ISIS for control of Syria’s north. The YPG is now a the central element of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The YPG is considered by the Turkish government to be inextricably linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey. However, unlike the PKK, the YPG is not a proscribed organization in the UK, US or European Union.
On July 31, former British soldier James Matthews, who was alleged to have fought alongside the YPG, had terrorism charges against him dropped by UK prosecutors. He was due to face trial in November after being charged with receiving training in Iraq and Syria “for purposes connected to the commission of preparation of terrorism,” but prosecutors said that there was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction on “evidential grounds.” He was believed to be the first person to be prosecuted for terrorism in the United Kingdom for assisting a group already being aided by the UK government.
Seven British men who volunteered with the YPG were killed in the fight against ISIS. This March, 26-year-old Anna Campbell was killed while fighting with the group’s female component, the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ). Campbell was killed by a Turkish missile strike as her unit helped evacuate residents from the northern Syrian town of Afrin, which was then being seized by Turkish and allied Syrian rebel forces. (Defense Post)
Anti-ISIS volunteers have also faced terrorism charges in Spain. The presence of anarchist and armed-left militants among the international YPG volunteers has occassioned much outrage from conservative policy wonks. The Pentagon has been backing the YPG to fight ISIS despite their anarchist-influenced politics.
Photo via Defense Post