On December 24, 2017, Turkish authorities issued an emergency decree which ordered the dismissal of 105 academic personnel and 50 administrative personnel, and the expulsion of 6 students, 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 since 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 December 24 decree, Decree No. 695, authorities ordered the dismissal of 2,756 public officials and employees – including 155 higher education personnel – who were identified as being affiliated with “terrorist organizations.” Dismissed personnel are further subject to a lifetime ban from employment as civil servants and that their passports will be invalidated indefinitely. Students named in the decree will have their student status cancelled and any degrees or certifications they obtain abroad will not be recognized in Turkey. Decree 695 also orders that one university professor who had previously been ordered for dismissal have his employment status reinstated.
The evidentiary basis, if any, for claims that the university personnel and students were affiliated with the Gülen movement, or were involved with the coup attempt, is unclear. Since the coup attempt, authorities have targeted 7,178 academic and administrative personnel for dismissal through emergency decrees.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of mass dismissals, expulsions, travel restrictions, and other deprivations of rights against higher education personnel and students, apparently based on suspicion of 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.