On March 14, 2016, Turkish authorities reportedly arrested three scholars for whom arrest warrants were issued in connection with their participation in a March 10 press conference.
At the conference, the scholars reportedly discussed and expressed their support for fellow scholars who are under investigation for having signed a petition calling on the Turkish government to end its crackdowns targeting Kurdish rebels in the southeastern part of the country. After attempts by the police were made to arrest the scholars at their homes, the scholars reportedly presented themselves to the İstanbul Security Directorate, where they were put into custody and, on March 15, formally charged with “making terrorist propaganda.” As of this report, the scholars are said to remain in custody pending the outcome of their trial.
The scholars include Esra Mungan, of Boğaziçi University; Kıvanç Ersoy, of Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts; Muzaffer Kaya, formerly of Nişantaşı University. A fourth arrest warrant was issued for Meral Camcı, formerly of İstanbul Yeniyüzyıl University, who is reportedly out of the country. Professors Kaya and Camcı were both terminated from their positions as a result of signing the petition. SAR previously issued an incident report on the February 8 firing of Professor Kaya.
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 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.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the detention of and professional retaliation taken against scholars in response to their 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 a part of a widespread pattern, such incidents have a profoundly 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, as well as due process and fair trial.
UPDATE: On March 31, 2016, Professor Camcı was reportedly arrested after returning to Turkey from France on March 30. Together with her lawyers, Professor Camcı went to the police station where she was referred to the Istanbul Court in Çağlayan for prosecution and later put in custody.
As of this report, Professors Mungan, Ersoy and Kaya, who were arrested on March 14, remain imprisoned, with recent reports indicating that they are being kept in solitary confinement.
UPDATE: The scholars attended an April 22, 2016 hearing, during which the public prosecutor called for the charges to be reduced to violating Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which criminalizes “insulting the Turkish nation,” and carries a two year sentence. The scholars were released the scholars on bail pending a September 26 hearing.
UPDATE: The scholars attended a September 26, 2016, hearing, at which it was announced that the Ministry of Justice had not yet decided on the public prosecutor’s request to change the charges. The court ruled to wait for their decision and to postpone until December 22. The scholars have not been acquitted, but remain free pending their next hearing.