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 24, 2017

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):Atatürk University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:Ongoing Incident

On February 24, 2017, Turkish security forces reportedly detained 17 academic personnel from Atatürk University for alleged connections to a July 15, 2016, coup attempt. The detainees include professors, assistant professors, and research assistants who had previously been dismissed from their positions by order of an emergency decree.

Following a July 15, 2016 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.

Authorities have not disclosed the identities of the detained personnel. Sources indicate that the evidentiary basis for the detentions is the academics’ alleged use of ByLock, an encrypted smartphone application, which Turkish authorities claim was used in connection with the coup attempt. SAR has reported several similar incidents in which the alleged use of ByLock has been cited as evidence to support the detention of scholars (see reports on January 20, 2017; February 6, 2017; and February 9, 2017).

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary detention of academic personnel 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.