On July 23, 2016, Turkish authorities reportedly arrested eight scholars from Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University (COMU), apparently in connection to a violent coup attempt on July 15, 2016. The scholars include Sedat Laçiner, Vedat Laçiner, İbrahim Türkyılmaz, Hüseyin Özdemir, Halil Şimşek, Aziz Kılınç, Cengiz Ataşoğlu, and Mehmet Fatih Yavuz.
State authorities have alleged that members of a movement led by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen were behind the coup attempt, and have taken a range of actions against members of the higher education community (among others) which they claim are intended to identify those parties involved, and/or to eliminate the Gülen movement’s influence within Turkish institutions. These actions have included mass dismissals of public employees, restrictions on travel, and other arrests.
On July 23, authorities reportedly arrested eight scholars from COMU on allegations of membership in Gülen’s movement. One of the scholars, Mehmet Fatih Yavuz, was released that same day on disciplinary control. According to family and media sources, the authorities have not disclosed charges or evidentiary bases for the arrests, nor have they provided the scholars access to legal counsel.
The most prominent of the seven imprisoned academics is Sedat Laçiner, a scholar of international relations, who served as COMU’s rector until February 2015, when President Erdogan replaced him with a runner-up candidate in that year’s rector election. Turkish sources indicate that the decision to block Professor Laçiner’s re-appointment, as well as rumors of links to the Gülen movement, followed his recent, public criticism of President Erdogan. Following the termination of his rectorship, Professor Laçiner has continued to publicly criticize the government, in particular the country’s anti-terrorism laws and how they have been applied in apparent efforts to eliminate dissent.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary detention and arrest of scholars as a part of sweeping actions taken by the State against members of the higher education community. 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, freedom of association, 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 victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.