On July 4, 2018, Turkish authorities arrested legal scholar Hanifi Baris in apparent retaliation for social media posts that were critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
In June 2018, Mr. Barış posted to his social media accounts a number of articles critical of President Erdogan, who was just re-elected as president and given expanded powers. Authorities reportedly opened an investigation into Mr. Barış’s social media activities, accusing him of spreading anti-government propaganda, posting items with criminal content via social media, and “propagandizing for a terrorist organization.”
On July 4, Mr. Barış and his attorney appeared at the security directorate in Bakırköy, Istanbul to give a deposition in response to the investigation. A judge for the 10th Penal Judgeship ordered for Mr. Barış arrested on a charge of “propagandizing for a terrorist organization.” The judge overruled Mr. Barış’s attorney’s objections to his detention pending trial on the ground that “there is a suspicion of escape and hiding.” Mr. Barış has appealed the order. If convicted, Mr. Barış could face up to four years’ imprisonment.
Sources indicate that Mr Barış was due in September to return to Aberdeen University in Scotland, where he received his PhD, as a keynote speaker for a convention of the Centre for Citizenship, Civil Society and Rule of Law. His academic colleagues at the university have launched a petition calling for his immediate release.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary arrest and prosecution of a scholar in apparent retaliation for nonviolent, expressive activity related to his professional expertise and protected by internationally recognized human rights standards. State authorities have a responsibility to refrain from interfering in such nonviolent activity. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, the arbitrary arrest and prosecution of scholars have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.
UPDATE: On September 19, 2018, a Turkish court ordered to release Mr. Barış from jail and has barred him from international travel, pending the outcome of his trial. He is scheduled to return to court on December 13, 2018.
UPDATE: On November 6, 2018, the public prosecutor’s office in Bakırköy reportedly notified Mr. Barış that a separate investigation had been opened into the same social media posts he allegedly published in June. The prosecutor is apparently seeking to charge Mr. Barış with violating article 301 of the Turkish penal code for insulting the president.
UPDATE: On February 12, 2019, the court sentenced Barış to one year and eight months imprisonment for “propagandizing for a terrorist organization.” The court has suspended the announcement of the verdict, a procedural mechanism in Turkey through which individuals convicted of crimes can avoid prison time so long as they aren’t subsequently convicted of separate offenses.