On February 3, 2017, Turkish authorities sentenced Suay Karaman, a scholar at Gazi University, to 11 months and 20 days in prison, for allegedly insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Mr. Karaman is a lecturer at Gazi University and the general secretary of the Association of Academic Staff (TÜMÖD). Prosecutors alleged that Mr. Karaman made insulting comments about President Erdoğan during a May 23, 2015 panel discussion in İzmir, organized by TÜMÖD. The subject of the panel was an alleged 2003 coup plot known as ‘Sledgehammer’, in which a group of officers was accused of presenting a plan at an army seminar to bomb mosques, in order to trigger a war with Greece as part of an effort to overthrow President Erdoğan. When the accused officers were detained in 2011, a number of heads of Turkey’s armed forces resigned in protest and criticized what they believed to be a government witch-hunt against members of the military. More than 300 officers were convicted in 2012 for taking part in the ‘Sledgehammer’ conspiracy. They were released from prison in 2013, when Turkey’s Constitutional Court deemed the trial flawed and overturned the convictions. 236 of the military suspects were later retried, and cleared of all charges in 2015.
Mr. Karaman has denied the accusations against him and claims that his speech was critical, not insulting.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the prosecution and imprisonment of a scholar in apparent retaliation for the non-violent exercise of the rights to academic freedom, freedom of expression, and freedom of association, conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Such acts undermine academic freedom and society generally. State officials have an obligation to comply with internationally recognized standards of free expression, due process and fair trial.