On February 22, 2017, Turkey’s Higher Education Council (YÖK) reportedly cancelled the work permits of Noémi Levy-Aksu, a professor of history at Boğaziçi University, and Abbas Vali, a professor of sociology at Boğaziçi University, apparently in connection with a January 2016 petition calling on the Turkish government to end its crackdowns targeting Kurdish rebels in the southeastern part of the country. University officials subsequently terminated Professor Levy-Aksu’s contract, while Professor Vali had reportedly already resigned.
Following the publication of the petition (known as the “Peace Petition”) in January 2016, Turkish state and higher education authorities began taking sweeping actions against its signatories. All 1,128 signatories were immediately placed under investigation, with many later suffering professional retaliation, detentions, arrests, prosecutions, travel restrictions, and other threats in connection with the Peace Petition.
On February 22, 2017, YÖK’s Executive Commission reportedly cancelled the work permits of Professors Levy-Aksu and Vali, who hold French and Iranian citizenship, respectively. This decision was communicated in a letter received by Boğaziçi University officials on March 7; however, the reason for the cancellation was not disclosed. In response to YÖK’s order, university officials terminated the contract of Professor Levy-Aksu, who was promoted to the position of Associate Professor on March 6, one day prior to notification of the work permit cancellation. Professor Vali had already resigned from his position at Boğaziçi University. As a result of the cancellation of the scholars’ work permits, they have also lost Turkish residency status and access to health care.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about professional retaliation against scholars, apparently in retaliation for the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and association — conduct that is expressly 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. 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 expression and association, due process. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.