On July 3, 2018, a Turkish court reportedly convicted and sentenced Kadir Aşkın P. (K.A.P.), a former Melikşah University computer science professor, to six years and three months’ imprisonment on terrorism-related charges, apparently based on alleged connections to a movement led by Fethullah Gülen, who authorities claim was responsible for a violent coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
Following the 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 Mr. Gülen are 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 included orders to close down fifteen private universities, including Melikşah University, based on their alleged connections to Gülen. A growing number of former faculty of the closed universities have been detained and/or prosecuted, based on similar allegations. There is no information available regarding the circumstances of K.A.P.’s detention. Reports of his court proceedings indicate that prosecutors based their case on his alleged use of an encrypted smartphone application known as ByLock, which authorities allege was used by “Gülenists” in connection with the coup attempt, and an account he held at Bank Asya, which authorities also claim has connections to Gülenists. As of this report, there is no information regarding a potential appeal.
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 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.