SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: February 02, 2016

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances | Prosecution

Institution(s):Ankara University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On February 2, 2016, Dr. Reşat Barış Ünlü, a professor of political science at Ankara University in Turkey, was tried on terrorism-related charges based on an exam question he wrote roughly one year earlier.
In a January 2015 exam, Dr. Ünlü had asked his students to compare two writings by the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).  A Turkish newspaper learned of the question and published an article shortly thereafter, suggesting that Dr. Ünlü was supporting terrorist activities “under the cloak of free expression.” Following that article, Dr. Ünlü reported receiving multiple death threats.  He was eventually indicted for disseminating “terror propaganda”, and faced a prison sentence of up to seven years.
Ankara’s Second Criminal Court for Serious Crimes acquitted Dr. Ünlü on Feb. 3, 2016.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violent threats and criminal charges against scholars in retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the right to academic freedom and freedom of expression – conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. State officials have a responsibility not to interfere with the rights to academic freedom and freedom of expression, so long as such rights are exercised peacefully and responsibly. Threats of violence and criminal charges aimed at retaliating against scholars for the non-violent exercise of the right to academic freedom – even when the charges result in an acquittal – chill academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally. State officials have an obligation to comply with internationally recognized standards of free expression and freedom of association, due process and fair trial.