On January 17, 2015, Professor Hasan Herken, Dean of Pamukkale University’s Faculty of Medicine, resigned from his position after receiving a number of violent threats in response to a joke he made over Twitter in early January, criticizing costumes worn as part of a presentation during a welcoming ceremony by President Erdogan for foreign dignitaries in Turkey.
Dean Herken reportedly began receiving threats against both himself and his family immediately after posting the tweet. Although he deleted the tweet shortly thereafter, the threats reportedly continued. In addition, members of the youth wing of President Erdogan’s Justice and Development party reportedly staged a protest calling for Dean Herken’s resignation. In a statement, Dean Herken said “Feeling responsible for and wanting to avoid a situation where the university will become a target to serve other purposes, I leave my post as a dean,” he said. “I will continue with my studies as an academic at the psychiatry department.”
Scholars at Risk is concerned about threats of physical violence against a scholar in response to nonviolent expressive activity, resulting in the scholar’s resignation. Such threats not only impact the immediate victims, but undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy and the ability of higher education communities to serve their educational, research and social functions, harming all members of these communities and society generally. States have a responsibility to protect higher education communities from such threats, including where necessary dedicating additional resources to ensure security, in a fashion consistent with academic freedom and institutional autonomy.