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: July 20, 2016

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution | Other

Institution(s):Center for Legal Ethical and Political Studies

Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On July 20, 2016, Turkish authorities reportedly detained and later arrested Ibrahim Cerrah, a scholar of police ethics, apparently on suspicion of membership in Turkey’s Gülenist movement.

Professor Cerrah is a prominent scholar in law enforcement and police ethics who spent much of his career at the Turkish National Police Academy (TNPA) and various higher education institutions in the US. In 2014, he left the TNPA, and soon after founded a think-tank known as Hukuk Etik Siyaset Arastirmalari (HESA; or “the Center for Legal Ethical and Political Studies”). Both at TNPA and HESA, Professor Cerrah has conducted research on and spoken publicly about bribery and corruption in the police and other levels of Turkish government.

Following a failed attempt at a coup on July 15, 2016, State authorities have taken a range of actions against members of the higher education community — among others — allegedly intended to identify those parties involved with the coup attempt, with the ultimate aim of eliminating their influence within Turkish institutions. Authorities have focused these efforts on individuals suspected of being associated with a movement led by Fettulah Gülen, a Muslim cleric accused by the authorities of organizing the coup attempt.

On July 20, authorities detained Professor Cerrah at Izmir Adnan Menderes Airport as he was preparing to travel to Germany. Professor Cerrah was then brought to an undisclosed location where he was reportedly denied visits from family members. On July 23, State authorities closed down HESA along with hundreds of other organizations suspected of having connections to the Gülenist movement. The extent of Professor Cerrah and HESA’s connections to the Gülenist movement, if any, remain unclear.

On August 19, 30 days after he was detained, authorities arrested Professor Cerrah on charges that remain undisclosed. He has since reportedly been transferred to a prison in Ankara. As of this report, it is unknown when a hearing will be scheduled.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary arrest and detention of a scholar, as well as the closure of a research institute as part of sweeping actions taken by the State against higher education community members. While State authorities have a right to maintain order and respond to legitimate security concerns, such actions must comply with States’ human rights obligations, including those relating to freedom of opinion and expression, due process, and academic freedom, which are protected by 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 victim, 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.