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Turkey sentences British ex-soldier to jail over links to Kurdish YPG militia

Robinson was arrested in 2017 while holidaying in Turkey after he posted online photos of himself with YPG fighters
Court sentences Robinson for 'membership in a terrorist organisation' (AFP/file photo)

A Turkish court sentenced a former British soldier to seven-and-a-half years in jail for links to a Kurdish militia that Ankara considers a "terrorist" group.

Joe Robinson, 25, from Leeds, was arrested in July 2017 while holidaying in Turkey after he posted online photos of himself in camouflage posing next to fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG) in Syria. 

A court in the western city of Aydin sentenced him for "membership in a terrorist organisation," the private DHA news agency said.

The YPG is an ally of the United States in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria. Still, Ankara is hostile to the YPG because of its links with the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which is fighting for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey. 

Robinson did not attend the trial for health reasons, DHA said. He is currently on bail and planning an appeal.

His mother, Sharon Chimejczuk, said she had received a phone call on Friday night from an official at the British Foreign Office confirming his sentence, the BBC reported.

She said her son's fiancee, Mira Rojkan, a law student at the University of Leeds, had been given a suspended sentence for "terrorism propaganda".

Rojkan told the BBC: "The court sentenced me for sharing Facebook posts with the Kurdish flag and links to Kurdish songs on YouTube.”

According to British news reports, Robinson is a former soldier who served in Afghanistan in 2012 and went to Syria in 2015 to work in the YPG's health unit.

His family says he was a military medic. He spent five months as a volunteer with Kurdish forces who were fighting against IS, and had previously spoken about his experiences in media reports, the BBC said.

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A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We stand ready to provide consular assistance to a British national in Turkey," according to the BBC.

Still, in February, a former British soldier who fought alongside YPG units against IS in Iraq and Syria was charged in London with receiving terrorist training. 

James Matthews, 43, was believed to be the first person to be prosecuted for terrorism in Britain for assisting a group helped by the British government.

Matthews was charged "with attending a place or places in Iraq and Syria where instruction or training was provided for purposes connected to the commission or preparation of terrorism," British police said.

Hundreds of foreign fighters from countries including Britain, Canada, France, Germany and the United States have fought alongside the YPG in northern Syria.