On January 12, 2018, Turkish authorities issued an emergency decree which ordered the dismissal of 60 academic personnel and 19 administrative personnel and staff, 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 January 12 decree, Decree No. 697, authorities ordered the dismissal of 262 public officials and employees – including 79 higher education personnel – who were identified as being affiliated with “terrorist organizations.” The evidentiary basis, if any, for claims that the university personnel were involved in the coup attempt is unclear.
Dismissed personnel are further subject to a lifetime ban from employment as civil servants and the indefinite invalidation of their passports. Decree 697 further ordered to reinstate the status of two students who were previously ordered expelled from their Turkish institutions while studying abroad.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of mass dismissals, 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.