SAR calls for action to counter mass targeting of higher education communities in Turkey

Posted July 31, 2019

July 30, 2019 | New York, NY – Scholars at Risk (SAR), in partnership with the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University, has filed a submission with the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR), highlighting pressures and attacks on higher education in Turkey. Drawing on data collected by SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project, the submission focuses on the unprecedented volume of attacks on scholars, students, and higher education institutions in Turkey following two events: the January 2016 publication of a petition, by a group known as Academics for Peace, criticizing the Turkish government’s actions in predominantly Kurdish regions of the country; and the July 2016 coup attempt. Major trends discussed in the submission include:

  • Wrongful prosecution and imprisonment of academics in retaliation for their scholarly work or nonviolent exercise of the right to free expression: As of this submission, Turkish authorities have charged hundreds of academics, in nearly uniform indictments, with making propaganda for a terrorist organization based on their having signed the so-called Peace Petition. Nearly every case, out of more than 200 tried to date, has resulted in a guilty verdict; the majority of these have resulted in suspended sentences, but at least 35 to date have led to prison sentences. Authorities have also detained more than 500 university personnel based on unproven allegations of involvement in the 2016 coup attempt.
  • Dismissal and restrictions on the travel of students and scholars: Following the July 2016 coup attempt, the Turkish government declared a three-month state of emergency. Through a series of decrees, however, it was extended for a total of two years. Through the decrees, 7,508 university personnel were ordered dismissed and barred from future work in higher education and civil service. In addition, nearly 6,000 scholars and 1,300 university administrative staff, and their spouses, were stripped of their passports.
  • Closure of universities: In addition to the individual scholars who were targeted, one July 2016 emergency decree ordered the outright closure of 15 universities with ties to groups alleged to have been responsible for the 2016 coup attempt, leaving 2,808 faculty jobless, and disrupting the education of at least 58,000 students.

SAR urges United Nations member states to call on Turkish authorities to reaffirm their commitment to academic freedom by, among other things: reversing charges against and unconditionally releasing scholars and university personnel criminally prosecuted in retaliation for their exercise of academic freedom, freedom of expression, and other rights; restoring higher education personnel dismissed under decrees to their former positions; reinstating the passports of all higher education personnel and their families who were barred from international travel by decree; and amending, revising or repealing Turkey’s Anti-Terror Law in a manner consistent with Turkey’s obligations under international law. SAR also calls on United Nations member states to extend protections and resources to refugee academics from Turkey within their borders.

Finally, SAR notes that, following the submission, the General Assembly of the Constitutional Court of Turkey ruled on July 26, 2019, that the prosecution of ten of the Peace Petition signatories on terrorism charges violated their right to free expression. SAR understands that this ruling has the potential to impact positively the cases of the other Peace Petition signatories. SAR welcomes this development, and calls on Turkish authorities to ensure that all other cases involving Peace Petition signatories proceed, in a timely manner, with due application of international standards relating to freedom of expression, freedom of association, and academic freedom. SAR further urges all stakeholders to work to ensure that Turkish authorities apply these standards to rectify the thousands of other recent cases involving wrongful arrests, prosecution, terminations, expulsions, university closures, and restrictions on travel that have occurred during this UPR period.

Read the Full Submission


For additional information or inquiries about the submission, please contact Jesse Levine.

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