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 05, 2017

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):Süleyman Sah University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:Ongoing Incident

On May 5, 2017, Turkish authorities issued detention warrants for 72 academic and administrative personnel from Süleyman Sah University (SSU) on allegations of being involved in a violent coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

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 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. This has included an emergency decree issued on July 23, 2016, ordering the closure of 15 private universities suspected of having connections to the Gülen movement, including SSU (see report).

The identities of the 72 SSU personnel named in the warrants have not been disclosed. The evidentiary basis of the detention warrants includes the personnel’s alleged use of Bylock, an encrypted smartphone application, which authorities allege was used in connection with the July 2016 coup attempt.

As of this report, 42 of the SSU personnel for whom warrants were issued have been detained. The status of the other 30 is unknown.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about sweeping actions, including arbitrary detention, 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.