On February 22, 2016, Halil İbrahim Yenigün, an assistant professor of political science and international relations at Istanbul Commerce University (ICU), was dismissed following a 40-day suspension in connection to signing a petition that called on the Turkish government to end its crackdowns targeting Kurdish rebels in the southeastern part of the country.
The petition, signed by 1128 scholars from 89 Turkish universities, as well as more than 300 scholars from outside the country, demands an end to fighting between Turkish forces and members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). It accuses that the government of the “deliberate massacre and deportation” of civilians, and calls on the government to allow independent observers into the region, end curfews, and renew peace efforts.
Following the publication of the petition on January 11, 2016, public authorities placed all of its 1128 Turkish signatories under investigation. Since that time, many of the scholars who signed the petition have reportedly faced criminal, as well as professional retaliation.
Soon after President Erdoğan delivered a speech regarding the petition, ICU’s chair of the board İbrahim Çağlar reportedly informed Professor Yenigün of an investigation launched against him in connection to the petition. On January 15, the ICU’s administration wrote to Professor Yenigün to inform him that he would be suspended with pay during the investigation. On February 22, following the publication of an article criticizing Çağlar for continuing to pay and employ suspended scholars, ICU reportedly terminated Professor Yenigün from his position.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about professional retaliation against a scholar in response to the nonviolent exercise of the rights to academic freedom, free expression and free association – conduct that is expressly protected under 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. Where they are part of a widespread pattern, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom, undermine democratic society generally, and may represent a grave threat to higher education on a national scale. State and university authorities have an obligation to comply with internationally recognized standards of academic freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of association, and to protect these freedoms in the face of external pressures.
This is an update to an earlier report. To view, please click here.