On October 29, 2016, Turkish authorities issued a decree ordering the dismissal of 1,267 academic personnel, and the expulsion of 68 students studying abroad, on suspicion that they were connected to a violent coup attempt on July 15.
Authorities have alleged that members of a movement led by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen are behind the coup attempt, and have taken a range of actions against members of the higher education community (among others) which they claim are intended to identify those parties involved, and/or to eliminate the Gülen movement’s influence within Turkish institutions.
Following the coup attempt, Turkish authorities declared a national state of emergency which remains in effect as of this report. With the October 29 decree, Decree No. 675, authorities ordered the dismissal of more than 10,000 public officials and employees – including 1,267 higher education personnel – who were identified as being affiliated with “terrorist organizations or groups involved in activities against the country’s national security or those in contact with terrorist organizations or groups.” Decree No. 675 also ordered the expulsion of 68 higher education students studying abroad in Canada, the UK, and the US from their Turkish degree-granting institutions.
According to reports, the decree further provides that the dismissed academics are subject to a lifetime ban from seeking employment as civil servants, and that their passports and those of their spouses will be cancelled. Additionally, state institutions will not recognize foreign degrees obtained by the students listed in the decree.
The academics subject to the decree reportedly include 24 signatories to the January 2016 Academics for Peace Petition, which called on the government to end its crackdowns targeting Kurdish rebels in the southeastern part of the country. The evidentiary basis, if any, for claims that the scholars or students were affiliated with the Gülen movement, or were involved with the coup attempt, is unclear.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of mass dismissals, expulsions, travel restrictions, and other deprivations of rights against scholars and students, apparently based solely on suspicion of association with a particular organization. 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, freedom of association, 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. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and university autonomy, and undermine democratic society generally.