On December 6, 2017, Turkish authorities reportedly detained Mert N., a student at Boğaziçi University (BU) and president of the school’s student union, apparently based on alleged connections with a movement led by muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, 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, and remains in effect as of this report. 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.
Police raided the student’s home on December 6 and then took him into custody until December 13, when he was formally arrested and placed in pretrial detention. According to Turkish media sources, the evidentiary bases of his arrest and prosecution include his past studies at schools affiliated with Mr. Gülen and his use of ByLock, an encrypted smartphone messaging application that authorities allege was used in connection with the coup attempt. He reportedly faces up to 15 years imprisonment.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary arrest and prosecution of a student as a part of sweeping actions taken by the State against higher education community members. 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 and due process, which are protected by international human rights instruments such as 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.