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: April 29, 2017

Attack Types: Loss of Position | Travel Restrictions

Institution(s):Various Institutions

Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:Ongoing Incident

On April 29, 2017, Turkish authorities issued an emergency decree which ordered the dismissal of 484 academic personnel and 98 administrative staff, and the expulsion of 59 students, based on allegations that they were involved in a violent coup attempt on July 15, 2016. 

Authorities allege that members of a movement led by Muslim cleric Fethullah 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.

Following the coup attempt, Turkish authorities declared a national state of emergency which has been renewed repeatedly, and remains in effect as of this report. With the April 29 decree, Decree No. 689, authorities ordered the dismissal of 3,974 public officials and employees – including 582 higher education personnel – who were identified as being affiliated with “organizations or groups that are determined to carry out activities against [the] state’s national security.” The decree further provides that the dismissed academic personnel are subject to a lifetime ban from employment as civil servants; their passports will be canceled. 66 of the dismissed academic personnel were reportedly signatories to the January 2016 Academics for Peace Petition, which called on the government to end its crackdowns targeting Kurdish rebels in the southeastern part of the country. The evidentiary basis, if any, for claims that the scholars and administrative personnel were affiliated with the Gülen movement, or were involved with the coup attempt, is unclear. Since the coup attempt, authorities have called for the dismissal of 6,495 academic and administrative personnel through emergency decrees.

A second decree, Decree No. 690, was issued the same day, ordering an amendment to the Higher Education Act to require university rectors to obtain permission from the Higher Education Council (YÖK) for any travel abroad.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of mass dismissals, expulsions, travel restrictions, and other deprivations of rights against higher education personnel and students, apparently based solely on suspicion of association with a particular organization. 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 opinion and expression, 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 university autonomy, and undermine democratic society generally.