On September 1, 2016, Turkish authorities issued two emergency decrees ordering the dismissals of more than 40,000 public employees, including 2,346 academic personnel, as well as the expulsion of 158 students, following a July 15, 2016 coup attempt which left more than 200 people dead.
Authorities have alleged that members of a movement led by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen are behind the coup attempt. They 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 with the coup attempt, and/or to eliminate the Gülen movement’s influence within Turkish institutions.
Decree No 672, which was issued under a state of emergency, called for the dismissal of individuals “identified to adhere or be related to the formations or groups or terror organizations determined to pose a threat to the national security.” The dismissed, who include 44 signatories to the Academics for Peace Petition, are further banned from seeking employment as civil servants for life. Under the decree, those dismissed – and their spouses – have had their passports invalidated indefinitely.
A second decree issued that day, No 673, ordered the expulsion of 158 students who were studying abroad at the time of its issuance, based on allegations of suspected connections to the Gülen movement. In addition to their expulsion from Turkish higher education institutions, foreign certificates and degrees received by these students will not be recognized in Turkey, according to the decree.
The evidentiary basis, if any, for claims that the scholars or students were members of the Gülen movement, or were behind the coup attempt, is unclear.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of en masse dismissals, expulsions, travel restrictions, and other sweeping measures against scholars and students on suspicion of association with a particular organization, absent specific, detailed allegations regarding the bases for such actions. 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 university autonomy, and undermine democratic society generally.