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: December 27, 2017

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):Fatih University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On December 27, 2017, Turkish authorities issued detention warrants for 171 former personnel of Fatih University, based on suspected connections to Fethullah Gülen, who authorities claim was responsible for 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. These actions have included an emergency decree ordering the closure of 15 universities, including Fatih University, that authorities allege were connected to Mr. Gülen (see report). 

Since the December 27, 2017 issuance of detention warrants, at least 54 of the university personnel have reportedly been taken into custody. Authorities have cited their alleged use of ByLock — an encrypted smartphone messaging application that they claim was used in connection with the coup attempt — as one one of the bases for the warrants.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary issuance of detention warrants for higher education personnel 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.