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: December 22, 2016

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):Uşak University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On December 22, 2016, Turkish authorities reportedly arrested three scholars from Uşak University on allegations that they were involved with a violent coup attempt on July 15, 2016. The scholars include Nurullah Şanlı, Aykut Yılmaz, and Sait Celik, the university’s rector.

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.

According to media reports, on December 22, police in Uşak arrested eight individuals, including the three university scholars, for alleged connections to the Gülen movement and the July 15 coup attempt. They were then taken to Uşak’s police headquarters where they were reportedly charged with “being a member of a terrorist organization” and “aiding a terrorist organization.” As of this report, the factual allegations, if any, forming the bases for the arrests are unknown.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary arrest 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.

UPDATE: On November 27, 2017, a Turkish court convicted and sentenced Professor Celik to 7 years and 11 months imprisonment on a charge of “membership to a terrorist organization.”