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 11, 2017

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):Anadolu University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:Ongoing Incident

On May 11, 2017, authorities reportedly detained Ozan Devrim Yay, an assistant professor of environmental engineering at Anadolu University, who had been ordered dismissed by a February 7 government decree, based on allegations that he was 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 repeatedly, 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. 

On February 7, Turkish authorities issued emergency decree No. 686, ordering the dismissal of 330 academic personnel, including Professor Yay, based on allegations that they were involved in the coup attempt (see report). Half of the academics listed in the decree, including Professor Yay, were reportedly signatories to the January 2016 Academics for Peace Petition (“Peace Petition”), which called on the government to end its crackdowns targeting Kurdish rebels in the southeastern part of the country. Signatories to the Peace Petition have been placed under criminal and administrative investigations, with many suffering terminations, suspensions, arrests, detentions, travel restrictions, and other retaliatory acts. Professor Yay has reportedly been involved in advocacy supporting fellow Peace Petition signatories who have been targeted by government retaliation, including by performing in a band called Barışa Ezgi (“Peace Music”).

On May 11, at approximately 5:00 AM, police officers reportedly searched Professor Yay’s home, confiscating books, his computer, flash drives, and his cell phone. Professor Yay was then taken into custody and brought to the police department’s Anti-Terror Bureau. As of this report, authorities have not disclosed the reason for Professor Yay’s detention nor his whereabouts.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary detention of a scholar as a part of sweeping actions taken by State authorities against higher education communities. 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 victim, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.