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: September 20, 2016

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):Middle East Technical University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On September 20, 2016, 45 students from Middle Eastern Technical University (METU) were convicted and sentenced to ten months imprisonment in connection with their participation in a peaceful protest at a December 2012 event on campus. 

During a December 18, 2012 ceremony celebrating the launch of a satellite, students peacefully marched to the TÜBİTAK-Space building on the METU campus to protest the presence of then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. When they arrived, the students were reportedly blocked by police, who launched tear gas, fired water cannons, and clashed violently with them. Multiple students suffered injuries during the clashes. The students were later indicted and brought to trial starting in December 2013. On September 20, 2016, Ankara’s 14th Criminal Court of First Instance convicted the students on charges of “opposing the law on meetings and demonstrations” and “resisting a public official in order to prevent him/her from doing his/her duty.” The students have been sentenced to ten months in prison.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the prosecution and imprisonment of students in retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the rights to 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. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.