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 27, 2016

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):Karadeniz Technical University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On September 27, 2016, authorities detained eight research assistants and lecturers from Karadeniz Technical University (KTU), based on allegations that they were involved with a violent coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

Following the coup attempt, Turkish authorities declared a national state of emergency, which has been extended repeatedly, and remains in effect as of this report. Authorities allege that members of a movement led by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen are behind the coup attempt, and have accordingly 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.

The KTU personnel have reportedly been accused of using Bylock, an encrypted smartphone messaging application that state authorities claim was used by organizers of the coup attempt. On October 4, 2016, six of the detained personnel were arrested on terrorism related charges, while the two remaining personnel were released under judicial supervision.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary detention and arrest of academic personnel as a 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 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.