On December 21, 2017, a Turkish court convicted and sentenced Abdulkadir Şengün, a professor of dentistry and the former rector of Turgut Özal University (TOU), to more than eight years in prison on charges of “membership in a terrorist organization” in connection with allegations that he was involved in a violent coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
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 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.
On August 23, 2016, Professor Şengün was detained along with 14 other civil servants, based on allegations that they were involved in the coup attempt. On December 21, 2017, after more than fifteen months in custody, a court convicted and sentenced Professor Şengün to eight years, one month, and fifteen days imprisonment on charges of “membership in a terrorist organization.” Media sources indicate that the court based its prosecution on allegations that Professor Şengün served as Mr. Gülen’s private dentist in the US. The professor has disputed these claims, asserting that he previously traveled to the US for academic conferences, but never visited Pennsylvania, where Mr. Gülen has been living in exile.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary prosecution and imprisonment of a scholar 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, 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.