On April 16, 2014, the administration of Mardin Artuklu University (MAU) cancelled a conference on LGBT rights after a website reportedly denounced the conference as immoral and launched a campaign against the conference’s organizer.
The conference was scheduled to take place at MAU’s faculty of architecture on April 17, 2014, with presentations planned on “progress of assigning meaning to homosexuality from illness to demanding rights” and “health, psychiatry, ideology of medicine and heterosexism.” However, when a website affiliated with Turkey’s Hezbollah movement (which is not connected to the Lebanese organization of the same name), ran an article on the eve of the conference alleging that it constituted “immoral activity,” and accusing the event’s organizer, Professor Levent Sentürk, of being homosexual, the university’s rector canceled the conference. The same website then ran an additional article calling for retaliation against Dr. Sentürk stating, “cancelation does not suffice, this pervert should leave the university and the city.”
Scholars at Risk is concerned about threats to a professor on the basis of his decision to organize an academic conference. State and university authorities have a responsibility to protect higher education personnel from such threats, and to do so in ways that do not undermine academic freedom or institutional autonomy. By canceling the conference, rather than taking steps to ensure security that would allow the conference to proceed, the university appears to have sacrificed academic freedom to political expediency, and in the process undermined its institutional autonomy. State and university authorities have a responsibility to protect higher education personnel from threats, and to ensure higher education spaces that are open, safe, secure and free from outside interference or intimidation.