Turkish scholars detained and under investigation

Posted January 19, 2016

Turkish authorities have reportedly placed more than 1100 Turkish scholars under investigation after they signed a petition calling on the government to end its crackdowns targeting Kurdish rebels in the southeastern part of the country.  Following the publication of the petition on Monday, January 11, 2016, signatories have reportedly been arrested, charged with terrorism and related crimes, and suspended and/or forced to resign their positions.

The petition, signed by 1128 scholars from 89 Turkish universities, as well as more than 300 scholars from outside the country, demands an end to fighting between Turkish forces and members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).  It accuses that the government of the “deliberate massacre and deportation” of civilians, and calls on the government to allow independent observers into the region, end curfews, and renew peace efforts.

In a speech on Tuesday, January 12, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated that signatories constituted a “fifth column” and the petition displayed a “mentality of colonialism.”  As of this report, many of the scholars who signed the petition have reportedly faced criminal, as well as professional retaliation.  These include:

  • Latife Akyüz, an associate professor of sociology at Düzce University, who was reportedly terminated from her position and charged with “terrorist propaganda” to “inciting people to hatred, violence and breaking the law” and “insulting Turkish institutions and the Turkish Republic.”
  • Professor Bülent Tanju of Abdullah Gül University who was forced to resign his position and is reportedly being investigated for “insulting Turkishness” in violation of Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK).
  • Hülya Doğan, an assistant professor at Bartın University, who is reportedly being investigated for spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization.
  • Ümran Roda Suvağcı, a foreign language lecturer at Hakkari University, who was briefly detained in connection with the petition by police on January 14.
  • 18 scholars, including 15 scholars from Kocaeli University and 3 from Uludag University, who were reportedly detained during police raids on the morning of January 15. The 15 scholars from Kocaeli University have since been released after questioning; however, as of this report, the 3 scholars from Uludag University remain in custody.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about prosecution, arrest, detention, and professional retaliation against scholars in response to the nonviolent exercise of the rights to academic freedom, free expression and free association, conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Turkey is a party.  Where they are a part of a widespread pattern, such incidents have a profoundly chilling effect on academic freedom, undermine democratic society generally, and may represent a grave threat to higher education on a national scale.  State and university authorities have an obligation to comply with internationally recognized standards of academic freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of association, as well as due process and fair trial.

Learn more about attacks on higher education communities reported by SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project.