On March 21, 2018, a court convicted 17 former scholars and administrative staff from Melikşah University on terrorism-related charges, apparently based on alleged connections with Fethullah Gülen, who authorities claim was responsible for a violent coup-attempt on July 15, 2016. Convicted personnel have received sentences ranging from six years and three months imprisonment to eleven years and three months imprisonment.
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 a decree ordering the closure of Melikşah University and 14 other higher education institutions for their alleged connections to Mr. Gülen.
Aside from their connection with Melikşah University, it is unknown on what evidentiary bases the court convicted and sentenced the personnel, including university rector Mahmut Dursun Mat, and 16 other personnel including Ahmet Uyar, Bilal Vatansever, Doğan Bulut, Emin Emirza, Hasan Güngör, Hayrettin Eren, Hüseyin Kalyoncu, Metin Mete Özbilen, Mustafa Yılmaz, Mustafa Yüzükırmızı, Necati Vapur, Nihat Köroğlu, Onur Genç, Umut Hazar, Veli Demirci, Yücel Ceviz.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary prosecution and imprisonment of university 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 State’s’ human rights obligations, including those relating to freedom of association, due process and academic freedom, which are protected by international human rights instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 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.