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: June 20, 2016

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):Istanbul University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On June 20, 2016, authorities reportedly detained Şebnem Korur Fincancı, head of the department of forensic medicine at Cerrahpaşa Medical Faculty of Istanbul University, in response to her participation in a campaign to support press freedom in Turkey.

On May 3, 2016, Dr. Fincancı, who, in addition to her role as a professor chairs the Turkey Human Rights Foundation, joined 43 journalists, writers and activists in a World Press Freedom Day campaign by serving as symbolic “editors-in-chief” for the pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem. On June 20, authorities in Istanbul reportedly summoned Dr. Fincancı, along with two prominent journalists, Erol Önderoğlu and Ahmet Nesin, in connection to their participation in the campaign. Following the hearing, Professor Fincancı and the two journalists were placed in pretrial detention, and stand accused of “making terrorist propaganda.” As of this report, it is unclear when their trial will take place.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the detention of a scholar and other activists as a result of the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and 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. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally. State 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 June 30, 2016, a court ordered the release of Dr. Fincancı and Mr. Önderoğlun from pre-trial detention. Their first hearing is scheduled for November 8, 2016.

Update: On July 17, 2019, Dr. Fincancı and her co-defendants were acquitted of the terrorism charges.