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: March 03, 2018

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):Recep Tayyip Erdogan University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On March 3, 2018, Arif Yilmaz, a medical professor and the former rector of the Recep Tayyip Erdogan University, was convicted and sentenced to four years and two months imprisonment on a charge of “aiding a terror group.” The charge is apparently based on allegations that Professor Yilmaz has connections to a movement led by Fethullah Gulen, 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.

Professor Yılmaz was reportedly arrested in August 2016 and had spent 11 months in pretrial detention, before he was released on bail in July 2017, put under house arrest, and required to wear an ankle monitor while his trial was pending. During the trial, Professor Yilmaz complained of irregularities regarding the testimony against him. On March 3, 2018 he was convicted and sentenced to four years and two months in prison time.

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 and due process, 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.