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: May 22, 2018

Attack Types: Prosecution


Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On May 22, 2018, it was reported that Turkish public prosecutors opened an investigation against Bülent Şık, a former scholar at Akdeniz University, in response to a series of articles he produced about government research findings.

Dr. Şık is a scholar specializing in food and public health who worked at Akdeniz University until November 22, 2016, when he was dismissed from his position, under State of Emergency Decree No. 677.

From April 15 to 18, 2018, Dr. Şık published a series of articles in the newspaper Cumhuriyet, alleging that, in a 2011-2016 study, Turkey’s Ministry of Health withheld information about cancer-causing agents found in several cities exhibiting above-average cancer rates. According to Dr. Şık, who reportedly worked on the research behind the Ministry of Health study, alleged that the cities studied contained high levels of pesticide and other pollutants in agricultural products.

Turkey’s Ministry of Health filed a complaint with state prosecutors about Dr. Şık’s articles, which prompted an investigation. Prosecutors allege that Professor Şık violated Turkish Penal Code Articles 334, 336, and 258, which relate to the handling of so-called “prohibited” information.

Scholars At Risk is concerned about a criminal investigation against a scholar in apparent retaliation for the peaceful exercise of the right to academic freedom and freedom of expression — conduct that is expressly protected under 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. State authorities have a responsibility to refrain from interfering in scholars’ peaceful academic and expressive activities. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom, freedom of expression, and democratic society generally.

UPDATE: In September 2018, Dr. Şık reported that public prosecutors are considering bringing terrorism-related charges against him.

UPDATE: On September 26, 2019, Istanbul’s Second Criminal Court of First Instance convicted Dr. Şık on a charge of “disclosing work secrets” and sentenced him to fifteen months in prison. Dr. Şık will appeal the conviction and sentencing.