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: May 01, 2017

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):Dicle University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:Ongoing Incident

On May 1, 2017, authorities reportedly detained 16 academic personnel from Dicle University two days after they and hundreds of others from various universities were ordered for dismissal by a government decree, based on allegations that they supported a violent coup attempt on July 15, 2016 (see report). The detainees include Aydın Gelmez, Aziz Harman, Doğan Kurt, Emine Meşe, Fikret Uyar, İrfan Açıkgöz, Murat Biricik, Murat Kızıl, Mustafa O. Sinemilloğlu, Süleyman Kızıl, Tahsin Söğüt, Yasemin Bulut, Yasin Bedir, Yılmaz Turgut, Zeki Kanay, and Zuhal Toker. 

Following the 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.

On May 1, 2017, anti-terror police in Diyarbakir reportedly raided the homes and offices of the 16 academic personnel, who were all 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 1,128 original signatories to the petition have been subjected to criminal and administrative investigations, with hundreds having suffered dismissals and suspensions from their positions, detentions, arrests, and travel restrictions.

As of this report, all 16 academic personnel have been released; however, it is unclear whether they will face charges.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary detention of academic personnel in apparent retaliation for their nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of expression and association — conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. 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.