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: November 22, 2016

Attack Types: Loss of Position | Travel Restrictions

Institution(s):Various Institutions

Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:Ongoing Incident

On November 22, 2016, Turkish authorities issued a decree ordering the dismissal of 242 academic personnel and 942 higher education administrative personnel, on suspicion of connection to a violent coup attempt on July 15.

Authorities have alleged that members of a movement led by Muslim cleric Fethullah 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.

Following the coup attempt, Turkish authorities declared a national state of emergency which remains in effect as of this report. With Decree No. 677, authorities ordered the dismissal of more than 15,500 public officials and employees – including 1,184 higher education personnel – who were identified as being affiliated with “terrorist organizations or groups involved in activities against the national security of the state.” 15 of the dismissed academic personnel were signatories to the January 2016 Academics for Peace Petition, which called on the government to end its crackdowns targeting Kurdish rebels in the southeastern part of the country. The evidentiary basis, if any, for claims that the scholars and administrative personnel were affiliated with the Gülen movement, or were involved with the coup attempt, is unclear.

According to reports, the decree further provides that the dismissed academics and administrative personnel are subject to a lifetime ban from seeking employment as civil servants; and their passports and their spouses’ passports will be cancelled.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of mass dismissals, expulsions, travel restrictions, and other deprivations of rights against academic and administrative personnel, apparently based solely on suspicion of association with a particular organization. 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 opinion and expression, 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 university autonomy, and undermine democratic society generally.