On September 30, 2016, Turkish authorities detained 90 academic and administrative personnel from Gaziantep University (GU), based on allegations of suspected connections with a movement led by Fethullah Gulen, who authorities claim was responsible for a 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 evidentiary basis for authorities’ detention of the GU personnel has not been publicly disclosed. Among those detained during the September 30 operation is Professor Haluk Savaş, a prominent psychiatrist and expert on mental health disorders at GU. During his detention, Professor Savaş was diagnosed with bile duct cancer and eventually released. Authorities have not disclosed the names of the other GU personnel who were detained. As of this report, their status remains unknown.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary detention of academics and university 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.