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: February 06, 2017

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):Istanbul Technical University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On February 6, 2017, 33 academic and administrative personnel from İstanbul Technical University (İTÜ) were reportedly detained on suspicion of alleged links to Fetuhullah Gülen movement, who authorities have accused of being involved with a violent coup attempt that occurred on July 15, 2016. 22 academics have since been  arrested.

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.

The İTÜ staff members are accused of using ByLock, an encrypted smartphone application that Turkish authorities claim has been used by members of Gülen’s movement and in connection with the coup attempt. Of the 33 individuals detained, 22 have reportedly been charged and arrested, and 11 have been released on judicial probation.  As of this report, the names of the scholars have not been disclosed.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary arrest and detention of academics as 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.