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: October 19, 2017

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):Hitit University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:Ongoing Incident

On October 19 2017, Turkish authorities reportedly sentenced Professor Halil Aykul, a mechanical engineering professor and the former dean of the engineering faculty at Turkey’s Hitit University, to 6 years, 10 months, and 15 days in jail over terror charges, based on alleged connections with Fethullah Gülen, a cleric who authorities claim was responsible for 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. Authorities allege that members of a movement led by Mr. 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.
In 2016, after being accused of having connections with the Gülen movement, Professor Aykul was arrested and charged with “establishing and leading a terrorist organization;” he was also dismissed from his faculty position by order of a September 1, 2016 emergency decree (see report). On October 19, 2017, Professor Aykul pled not guilty to the charge, denying connections with the Gulenist movement, and claiming that he was being wrongfully accused. The court convicted and sentenced him to 6 years, 10 months, and 15 days in prison. The evidentiary basis for Professor Aykul’s conviction is unknown.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary arrest and conviction of a scholar. 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.