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 31, 2017

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution | Travel Restrictions

Institution(s):Dokuz Eylül University | Yıldız Technical University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:Ongoing Incident

On December 31, 2017, Turkish authorities reportedly detained two former university personnel, along with a teacher, all of whom had been dismissed from their positions pursuant to a government decree based on allegations that they were involved in a violent coup attempt on July 15, 2016. The academics and teacher were preparing to cross the border into Greece at the time they were detained

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.

Academic personnel and other civil servants dismissed through government decrees have been barred from civil service positions for life and had their passports invalidated indefinitely — a circumstance known as “civil death.” To avoid this fate, and to avert concerns about arrest, detention, prosecution, and other threats, subjects of the decrees have frequently attempted to flee the country.

On December 31, Turkish authorities detained former Yildiz Technical University teaching assistant Muzaffer Aydemir, a former Dokuz Eylul University lecturer identified by the initials A.C.E., and a prep school teacher identified by the initials G.H., as they prepared to cross the border to Greece. A fourth individual, a Pakistani national accused of smuggling the three over the border, was also detained. As of this report, Mr. Aydemir has been arrested on undisclosed charges and is awaiting trial, while the status of the remaining detainees remains unknown.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about arbitrary travel restrictions, detention and prosecution of academic personnel, as well as a teacher, as a part of sweeping measures targeting members of the higher education community. 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, freedom of movement, 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.