On June 1, 2017, Turkish police reportedly used violent force against Veli Saçılık, a sociologist, and Esra Özakça, a teacher, in an apparent effort to prevent them from peacefully protesting emergency decrees ordering the dismissal of thousands of civil servants, including themselves, based on allegations that they were 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.
Ms. Saçılık and Ms. Özakça’s protests followed similar efforts by Professor Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça, who had recently protested the emergency decrees by going on hunger strike, and later staging a sit-in, for which they were ordered detained (see report). Immediately afterward, on May 22, 2017, Ms. Saçılık and Ms. Özakça began a hunger strike of their own. They attempted to make a statement in Ankara’s Kizilay Square — the site of Professor Gülmen’s and Mr. Özakça’s sit-in. In response, police officers reportedly fired rubber bullets at Ms. Saçılık and Ms. Özakça to remove them.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of violence by police in response to the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights law including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Turkey is a party. State authorities have a responsibility to protect such rights and refrain from the use of force, so long as they are exercised peacefully. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such attacks have a chilling effect on academic freedom and democratic society generally.