Family beg May to help UK ex-soldier held in Turkey after fighting Isis | World news

The family of a former British soldier arrested in Turkey after fighting against Isis in Syria have begged Theresa May for help after his lawyer revealed he has been charged with “being a member of a terrorist organisation”.

Joe Robinson, 24, from Accrington, Lancashire, is facing up to 16 years in a Turkish prison, after he spent four weeks as a combat medic with the People’s Protection Units of Syrian Kurdistan (YPG) in 2015, said his solicitor Kaya Sertkaya.

Robinson was arrested on 22 July while on holiday in the town of Didim, about 62 miles (100km) north of Bodrum, south-west Turkey, when armed police raided the resort in which he was staying with his Bulgarian fiancee, Mira Rojkan, and her mother.

Turkey has long argued that the US-backed YPG is a terrorist organisation affiliated with its own Kurdish insurgent group, the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state for decades. The YPG denies any affiliation to the PKK.

“He is not in a very good place, emotionally,” said Sertkaya, who visited Robinson in the high-security prison in the south-western city of Denizli where he is being held on Tuesday. “He told me he is being kept in one room, alone, for 23 hours a day. He is trying to remain positive but it is difficult because he only gets an hour of fresh air a day and cannot speak to anybody. When I spoke to him he was uncomfortable saying any more because there were two officers in the room listening to us. I’m hoping he’ll be moved into more humanitarian conditions soon.”

Rojkan, 22, a law student at the University of Leeds, has been charged with propaganda for sharing pro-Kurdish material on Facebook, for which she faces up to five years in prison, Sertkaya added.

Robinson’s mother, Sharon, said the British Foreign Office had not visited him since his arrest. “I spoke to him on the phone for the first time today,” she said. “It was such a relief to hear his voice. He’s getting two meals a day and only has two books, one of which he’s read twice. He was in better spirits than I expected but, whatever he tells me, he’s still my baby and I can’t bear to think of him all alone in that cell. I know he’s very lonely and confused and must be drowning in thoughts and fears over what could happen to him. He’s frustrated that he isn’t allowed to see Mira, who’s out on bail, or find out what is happening.”

It is understood that the Turkish judicial process dictates that governments of foreign nationals held in Turkey on terror charges must apply for access, which usually takes about a month.

She added: “He hasn’t done anything wrong. He’s committed no crime here, and none in Syria where he’s accused of committing a crime. So how is it wrong in a country he just went on holiday to? I can’t get my head around it.”

His parents, along with other family members and friends, have now written a letter to May demanding action. “If Britain want to promote British values then it needs to act like Great Britain,” said Robinson’s father, Andrew, a telecommunications engineer.

In the letter, the family wrote that their son should not be in prison for “providing humanitarian aid within the same organisation we consider our ally” and told the prime minister: “A man like this should not go to prison, despite any geopolitical interests you might have.”

It goes on to call on May to engage with the Turkish government in an effort to bring Robinson home, adding: “To do anything other than provide effective and immediate support to a man who is a British citizen, a veteran and a national hero, is to show a deep disregard for your veteran forces, and to ally yourselves with an oppressive state.”

The family have also launched an online petition calling for Robinson’s release which so far has more than 2,700 signatures.

The prime minister’s office declined to comment on the case. The Foreign Office said: “We are aware of the detention of a British national in Turkey, and have requested consular access. We are providing support to the family and remain in contact with the Turkish authorities.”

Robinson, who toured Afghanistan with the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment in 2012, travelled to Syria in July 2015, telling his family he had gone to join the French Foreign Legion. There, he served for about a month as a combat medic alongside the YPG during one of the bloodiest phases of the war with Isis. He then crossed the border to join the peshmerga, the government-backed army of Iraqi Kurdistan fighting Isis in Iraq, before returning to the UK in November 2015.

Upon landing at Manchester airport, he was arrested by British police on suspicion of terrorism offences. After he had spent 10 months on police bail all charges were dropped.

Robinson has said he travelled to Syria after becoming increasingly incensed by both Isis’s gory propaganda videos and what he saw as Britain’s inaction in Syria.

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