On November 9, 2018, Turkish police reportedly detained law professor Dr. Cenk Yiğiter in apparent retaliation for nonviolent expressive activity.
Dr. Yiğiter was a professor of law at Ankara University until January 2017, when he was dismissed from his position and placed under a travel ban by order of a state of emergency decree (see report). The decree accused Dr. Yiğiter, along with hundreds of fellow academic personnel and other civil servants, of alleged connections with terrorist organizations that authorities claim organized a violent coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Authorities have not disclosed the evidentiary basis of their accusations; however, hundreds of the academic personnel dismissed by decree, including Dr. Yiğiter, were signatories to a petition that called for a peaceful resolve to state military actions in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast.
In early October 2018, a Turkish court reportedly convicted and sentenced Dr. Yiğiter to 1 year, 5 months and 15 days imprisonment for “insulting the president,” apparently in connection with an alleged social media activity by Dr. Yiğiter.
Almost one month since his sentencing, on November 2, Dr. Yiğiter posted a comment to Twitter regarding the personal impact of the state of emergency decrees. One week later, on November 9, Turkish anti-terrorism police raided Dr. Yiğiter’s home and detained him. Authorities reportedly interrogated Dr. Yiğiter over the course of three days and released him on November 12. According to his lawyer, Dr. Yiğiter was charged with “engaging in actions and activities in the name of a terrorist organisation,” allegedly in retaliation for his public comments regarding his dismissal by order of decree.
As of this report, it is unclear whether Dr. Yiğiter continues to faces prosecution on this most recent charge and whether he has filed an appeal of the conviction and sentencing from October 2018.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the detention of a scholar in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the right to 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 an obligation to refrain from restricting or retaliating against such conduct, so long as it is carried out peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, the use of detentions and other coercive legal action in connection with expressive activity undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.