On February 7, 2017, state authorities issued a decree ordering the dismissal of 330 academic personnel from 49 universities, based on allegations that they were suspected of being involved in a violent coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
Authorities allege that members of a movement led by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen are behind the coup attempt, and have accordingly 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 Decree No. 686, authorities ordered the dismissal of more than 4,464 public officials and employees – including 330 academic personnel – who were identified as being affiliated with “organizations or groups that are determined to carry out activities against [the] state’s national security.” 115 of the dismissed academic personnel were reportedly 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 and administrative personnel were affiliated with the Gülen movement, or were involved with the coup attempt, is unclear. Since the coup attempt, authorities have called for the dismissal of 5,913 academic and administrative personnel through emergency decrees.
The decree further provides that the dismissed academic personnel are subject to a lifetime ban from employment as civil servants; their passports will be canceled; and they will be stripped of the right to access public housing, while those living in public housing will be required to evacuate within 15 days.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of mass dismissals, expulsions, travel restrictions, evictions, and other deprivations of rights against academic personnel, 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.