On March 16, 2017, Turkish authorities detained Faysal Bsata and Abdel Salam Salem, Syrian students who were previously enrolled in universities ordered closed in a July 23, 2016 emergency decree, based on allegations of connections with Fethullah Gulen, who authorities allege organized a violent coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Mr. Bsata was subsequently deported.
Following a coup attempt in July 2016, Turkish authorities declared a national state of emergency, which has been extended repeatedly, and remains in effect as of this report. Authorities allege that members of a movement led by Mr. Gülen are behind the coup attempt, and have accordingly 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. On July 23, 2016, 15 private universities were closed by order of an emergency decree due to suspected connections with to the Gülenist movement (see report).
In March 16, 2017, Mr. Bsata and Mr. Salem, who had previously attended separate universities closed by the July 23, 2016 decree, went to the Turkish immigration office in Gaziantep to renew their Turkish residency. There, both students were reportedly detained without charge and held incommunicado. On April 24, the two students started a hunger strike to pressure authorities to order their release or bring charges against them. Mr. Bsata has since been deported, while Mr. Salem’s status is unknown.
Reports suggest that since Turkey declared a state of emergency, foreign students have been detained, deported, or denied entry into Turkey. Turkish authorities have reportedly detained students, including Mr. Bsata and Mr. Salem, in camps originally built to house Syrian refugees, and are pressuring foreign students facing deportation to sign forms attesting that they are leaving voluntarily.
Scholars at risk is concerned about arbitrary detentions, deportation proceedings, and other actions targeting members of the higher education community. 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 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.