In April 2018, Turkish authorities detained Dr. Murat Tuncer, former rector of Hacettepe University and world renowned oncologist, apparently based on alleged connections to a movement led by Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric who authorities claim was responsible for a violent coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
State authorities have alleged 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 mass dismissals of public employees, restrictions on travel, and other arrests.
Dr. Tuncer was responsible for the collaboration of Turkey’s Ministry of Health with the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer and the Middle East Cancer Consortium. As a specialist in pediatric hematology, Dr. Tuncer served as Secretary General of the National Pediatrics Society, was an executive committee member of the Union of Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean Pediatric Societies, the Turkish Science Academy Cancer Committee and the UNICEF National Committee. Tuncer led efforts to raise awareness about cancer by expanding cancer registry and breast cancer screenings, and address tobacco use and obesity in the country.
On September 1, 2016, Dr. Tuncer was dismissed from his position at Hacettepe University by order of a State of Emergency decree. The decree alleged that individuals ordered for dismissal were connected to “terrorist organizations.”
In April 2018, officers of the Anti-Terrorism Branch of the Ankara Police Department reportedly detained Dr. Tuncer and 17 others. As with his dismissal in September 2016, authorities alleged that Dr. Tuncer had connections to the Gülen movement; however, the evidentiary basis of those allegations remains unclear. No official charges have been made against Dr. Tuncer as of this report.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary detention of a scholar as a part of sweeping actions taken by the state against 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 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 victim, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.