In October 2016, Turkish authorities reportedly arrested Ali Kaya, a theoretical physicist at Boğaziçi University, apparently based on alleged connections to Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, who authorities claim was responsible for a violent coup attempt on July 15, 2016. In December 2017, he was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison on a charge of “being a member of a terrorist organization.”
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 Mr. Gülen are 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.
According to reports, the evidentiary basis of Professor Kaya’s arrest, conviction, and sentencing includes his academic travels to the United States and Canada. Despite his six-year prison sentence, authorities released Professor Kaya due to the time already spent in detention since his arrest in October 2016 and a pending appeal.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest and prosecution of a scholar as a part of sweeping actions taken by the State against 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 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 victim, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.