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 20, 2017

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Travel Restrictions

Institution(s):Gazi University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On May 20, 2017, Turkish authorities detained a former research assistant at Gazi University, who had been dismissed from her position, pursuant to a government decree, based on allegations that she was involved in a violent coup attempt on July 15, 2016. The research assistant was preparing to flee Turkey for Greece before she was detained along with ten others, who had also been dismissed from their positions.

Following the July 2016 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 were 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.

Academic personnel and other civil servants named in government decrees for dismissal have been barred from civil service positions for life, and had their passports invalidated indefinitely. To avoid arrest, detention, prosecution, and other threats, university personnel and others dismissed by decree have attempted on several occasions to flee the country. Turkish authorities detained the former Gazi University research assistant, and ten others, in Dalaman, just before they attempted to travel to the Greek island of Rhodes. Their status remains unknown as of this report.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about arbitrary travel restrictions and detention of a scholar as a part of sweeping measures 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 freedom of association, due process, freedom of movement, 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.