On July 20, 2016, Turkish authorities reportedly imposed a wide-ranging ban on all work-related, international travel by scholars, and demanding that all university personnel currently outside the country return to Turkey immediately.
Following a failed attempt at a coup on July 15, 2016, authorities have taken a range of actions against the higher education community — among others — allegedly intended to identify those parties involved with the coup attempt, or to eliminate their influence within Turkish institutions. In addition to restrictions on travel, these actions have reportedly included mass suspensions, closures of universities, and arrest and detention of university personnel.
Officials have described the restriction on travel as a temporary measure. While Turkish officials have claimed that only professional travel is restricted, several professors have reported being informed that they are not permitted to travel abroad for any reason. Turkish authorities have reportedly claimed that widespread travel restrictions and other measures are necessary because universities have historically been staging points for military juntas in Turkey, and those involved in planning the coup, and their accomplices, represent a flight risk.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about sweeping restrictions on travel which target all members of a national higher education community, or which restrict all academic travel. While State authorities have a right to maintain order and respond to legitimate security concerns, such actions must comply with States’ human rights obligations, including those relating to freedom of opinion and expression, due process, and academic freedom, which are protected by 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. Arbitrary or overbroad restrictions on travel targeting an entire national higher education sector 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.
On July 22, 2016, the Higher Education Council’s (YOK) reportedly lifted their ban on scholar travel; however, university officials are now permitted to call on scholars and students to return to Turkey.