On July 8, 2018, Turkish authorities issued an emergency decree which ordered the dismissal of 199 academic personnel and 52 university staff, and the expulsion of one student, based on allegations that they were involved in a violent coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
Authorities allege that members of a movement led by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen are behind the coup attempt, and have since 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.
Following the coup attempt, Turkish authorities declared a national state of emergency which has been renewed repeatedly, and remains in effect as of this report. With the July 8 decree, Decree No. 701, authorities ordered the dismissal of 18,632 public officials and employees – including 251 higher education personnel – who were identified as being affiliated with “terrorist organizations.” Of the academic personnel ordered dismissed, 18 were signatories to the January 2016 Academics for Peace Petition, “We will not be a party to this crime,” which called on the Turkish government to end its crackdowns targeting Kurdish rebels in the southeastern part of the country.
Dismissed personnel are further subject to a lifetime ban from employment as civil servants and the indefinite invalidation of their passports. The student named in the decree, İlker Aslantepe, will be stripped of his Turkish student status and any degrees or certifications he obtains abroad will not be recognized in Turkey. Decree 701 also orders that eight academic personnel who had previously been ordered dismissed have their employment status reinstated.
The evidentiary basis, if any, for claims that the university personnel and student were involved with the coup attempt is unclear.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of mass dismissals, expulsions, travel restrictions, and other deprivations of rights against higher education personnel and students, apparently based on suspicion of association with a particular organization. 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 victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and university autonomy, and undermine democratic society generally.