Joanna Palani, a 23 year old fighter of the YPJ, the famous Kurd “Women’s protection unit”, is currently detained in Denmark, presumably for terrorism. The YPJ is an all-female brigade of the Syrian Kurdish forces, engaged in the fight against ISIS.
In a video posted to Facebook on Wednesday, Palani says she is currently in prison in Denmark. She says she doesn’t know for how long, but “it could be two years.”
“I need your help to spread the news that the YPJ is not a terrorist organization,” she pleads.
The YPJ is part of the YPG (also known as the People’s protection unit), which is the armed force of the Kurdish Region of Rojava in Western Syria. They have been widely recognized as instrumental in the fight against ISIS in Ìraq and Syria. They most notably played an important role in taking back Kobane from terrorist control in 2015.
Palani is a Danish student, born in a refugee camp in Iraq. She comes from an Iranian Kurd family of Peshmerga fighters (the armed force of Iraq Kurds). Last year, she abandoned her studies in Copenhagen to fight with the Peshmergas and with the YPJ.
Both organizations are significantly backed by the US and generally acknowledged as legitimate military units. However, when Palani returned to Denmark while on permission after fighting for a year, she was forbidden to leave the country and her passport was confiscated.
Danish police told the Russian channel RT that Palani was suspected of wanting to leave the country to participate in activities that could threaten Denmark’s national security. She hasn’t been able to return to the YPJ since. The only information about her arrest to date is the short video she filmed herself.
The confiscation of her passport, and, presumably, her subsequent detention, are supported by legislation intended to stop Danish citizens from joining jihadist groups abroad. Some argue that Denmark is courting Turkey’s help to keep refugees out of the EU and, therefore, included the YPJ, a group Turkey doesn’t like, as a group to watch out for.
David Romano, a political science professor at Missouri State University, formerly of REMO, the réseau du Moyen-Orient du CERIUM (Université de Montréal), told Forget the Box that he can’t speak to Danish motivations as it would simply be “speculating about behind-closed-doors Turkish pressure” but did have this to say about YPJ/YPG:
“In the court of public opinion, they are certainly pretty legitimate — empowering women, protecting minorities, fighting ISIS, etc… The U.S. does back them, so that is an indirect indicator as well. High level U.S. officials meet publicly with YPG leaders, and U.S. special forces are embedded with them (along with many Western volunteers). Russia calls for them (via their political parent, the PYD) to be included in peace talks on Syria, and only Turkish objections prevent this.”