On November 18, 2016, Turkish authorities issued arrest warrants for 103 scholars from Yıldız Technical University (YTU), on allegations that they were involved with a violent coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Of the scholars named in the warrants, 77 were detained. On December 5, 30 of the detained scholars appeared in court. Of those, 14 were charged with “being a member of an armed terror organization” and remain in custody; another 14 were released on probation, while two more were released pending trial.
Following the July 15 coup attempt, Turkish authorities declared a national state of emergency, which has been extended multiple times, and remains in effect as of this report. Authorities have alleged that members of a movement led by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen were 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.
Reports suggest that one of the bases for the arrests of the YTU scholars was their alleged use of a smartphone messaging app known as Bylock – an app that Turkish authorities claim was used in connection with the coup attempt.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary detention of scholars 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.