On February 10, 2017, Turkish police reportedly arrested and attacked scholars, students and other individuals who had gathered at Ankara University to protest a government decree ordering the dismissal of 330 academic personnel around the country.
In response to a July 15, 2016, violent coup attempt, Turkish authorities have taken a range of actions against members of the higher education sector (among others) which they claim are intended to identify the parties involved, and/or to eliminate the influence of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, who is also suspected of being involved in the coup attempt. These measures have included a number of government decrees that order the dismissal of higher education personnel, state security officers, government administrators, and other civil servants, based on allegations that they were suspected of being involved in the coup attempt.
On February 7, 2017, Turkish authorities issued Decree No. 686, which ordered the dismissal of 330 academic personnel, including 71 scholars from Ankara University (see report). On the morning of February 10, hundreds of scholars, students, and civilians, including members of parliament, reportedly made their way to the Cebeci campus of Ankara University to protest the latest round of dismissals. Sources indicate that police had blockaded the campus entrance in anticipation of the planned protest; however, some protesters reportedly managed to enter campus after presenting IDs to the police. Protesters on both sides of the gate reportedly demonstrated peacefully by chanting and laying graduation gowns on the ground. As more protesters attempted to make their way through the gates, police reportedly began firing rubber bullets and launching tear gas in order to disperse the crowd. Police reportedly detained 12 protesters, including students and current and now-dismissed scholars. As of this report, the status of the detained protesters is unknown.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use force against and detention of scholars, students, and other individuals engaged in the peaceful exercise of academic freedom, freedom of expression, and freedom of association — conduct which is explicitly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, detention and the use of excessive force in response to peaceful expression threatens the well-being of higher education community members, and undermines academic freedom and institutional autonomy. State officials have a responsibility not to interfere with the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association, and academic freedom, so long as they are exercised peacefully and responsibly.