Middle East based Al Masdar News confirms that Turkey has sentenced an ex-British soldier to nearly eight years in prison for joining the Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria. Joe Robinson, 25, is a former army medic who had previously served with UK forces in Afghanistan in 2012.
He was first arrested on charges of “membership in a terrorist organization” by Turkish security forces on a beach in July 2017 while he was on holiday inside of the country. The Independent reports: “He was handed a seven-and-a-half year sentence after a trial, which he was not allowed to attend, on Friday.”
And further: “His student fiancée, Mira Rojkan, who was arrested at the same time, was given a suspended sentence for ‘terrorism propaganda’. She says all she did was share pro-Kurdish posts on Facebook and YouTube.”
Robinson was accused of fighting with the Kurdish YPG in Syria before he took the brief holiday in Turkey. The British national upon his arrest in 2017 had been reportedly aiding the YPG in their fight against the Islamic State in Syria. Turkey considers the YPG to be an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and an enemy of the Turkish state.
According to prior reporting in the Independent, Robinson was detained at the resort of Didim, on the Aegean coast, with his girlfriend Mira Rojkan, a Bulgarian living in Leeds, along with her mother who had accompanied them.
“Both the women were subsequently released, but the Turkish authorities have stated that 23 year old Mr Robinson, from Accrington in Lancashire, is being investigated in connection with terrorist offences and is likely to face charges,” according to the report of their initial arrest.
A Turkish defense official had issued Ankara’s official position in the following statement: “The YPG is the PKK by another name and the PKK is considered a terrorist organisation not just by us but the UK as well. Of course anyone fighting with a terrorist organization will be investigated and there is a strong possibility of charges and a long sentence if he is found guilty.”
The YPG is leading the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which has bases throughout northern and eastern Syria. The SDF was previously engaged in heavy clashes with ISIS in Raqqa city, before its liberation in 2017.
A US-led coalition spokesperson told The Independent in an earlier interview that for the United States there is a distinction between the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
“We disagree with the Turkish position that the YPG and the PKK are the same organization. The Coalition recognizes the threat the PKK poses to Turkey, but Turkey cannot pursue that fight at the expense of our common fight against terrorists that threaten us all,” the Pentagon officail said, in reference to the war on ISIS jihadists.
Meanwhile, Britain has reportedly done little to seek Robinson’s release during his year of incarceration ahead of this week’s trial, to the immense frustration of his family. A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We stand ready to provide consular assistance to a British national in Turkey.”
The news comes as another Westerner is also facing terror charges in a high profile case.
Pastor Andrew Brunson, a 50-year-old evangelical pastor from Black Mountain, North Carolina was detained in 2016, and is now undergoing trail while in house arrest for charges including espionage and aiding terrorist groups after being accused of cooperating with “Kurdish terrorists” and colluding with the Gulenist Islamic movement; he faces up to 35 years in prison if found guilty. He’s been in Turkish custody for nearly two years.
Over the summer Congress voted to block the impending sale of Lockheed Martin’s advanced F-35 stealth fighter to Turkey, and tensions between the US and Turkey has been at their highest in years.
The British ex-soldier Robinson’s stiff 8-year sentence may be an indication of what’s to come for Brunson.
As President Trump has personally on multiple occasions weighed in on Pastor Brunson’s detention, any level of similar sentencing would likely unleash a storm of controversy in the US, and immense pressure on Turkey from the White House.