On August 25, 2017, Turkish authorities issued an emergency decree which ordered the dismissal of 120 academic personnel and 52 administrative personnel and staff from 28 universities, based on allegations that they were involved in a violent coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
Authorities allege that members of a movement led by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen are 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.
Following the coup attempt, Turkish authorities declared a national state of emergency which has been renewed repeatedly, and remains in effect as of this report. With the August 25 decree, Decree No. 693, authorities ordered the dismissal of over 900 public officials and employees – including 172 higher education personnel – who were identified as being affiliated with “terrorist organizations.” Dismissed higher education personnel are further subject to a lifetime ban from employment as civil servants and the cancellation of their passports for an indefinite period of time. Decree 693 further ordered the reappointment of one academic who was previously ordered dismissed.
The evidentiary basis, if any, for claims that the scholars, administrative personnel, and staff were affiliated with the Gülen movement, or were involved with the coup attempt, is unclear. Since the coup attempt, authorities have targeted 7,023 academic and administrative personnel and staff for dismissal through emergency decrees.
An additional decree, Decree No. 694, was issued on August 25, 2017 as well. That decree ordered that academic personnel who have been named for reappointment since their dismissal, but who have not yet been placed in a university, may only be reappointed to universities outside of Ankara, Istanbul, and Izmir. This was ostensibly ordered to reduce faculty shortages at universities outside Turkey’s major cities. Decree No. 694 also extended the maximum pretrial detention period from five to seven years for individuals arrested based on terrorism-related allegations and charges.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of mass dismissals, travel restrictions, and other deprivations of rights against higher education personnel and students, apparently based on alleged association with a particular organization. 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 opinion and expression, 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 university autonomy, and undermine democratic society generally.