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: November 16, 2018

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Travel Restrictions

Institution(s):Boğaziçi University | Istanbul Bilgi University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On November 16, 2018, Turkish authorities reportedly detained Turgut Tarhanlı, dean of the faculty of law at İstanbul Bilgi University, and Betul Tanbay, professor of mathematics at Boğaziçi University, along with ten others, for alleged connections to human rights activist Osman Kavala and a series of protests that took place across Turkey in 2013.

Mr. Kavala, a business leader who co-founded the civil society organization Anadolu Kültür in 2002, was detained in October 2017, apparently based on accusations that he organized the 2013 Gezi Park protests — a series of social protests which began in Istanbul and, over the course of that summer, spread throughout the country — and sought to “‘abolish’ the constitutional order and the government.” Authorities reportedly further suspect Mr. Kavala of having connections to the violent July 2016 coup attempt.

Pro-government media outlets reportedly describe Mr. Kavala as “Turkey’s Soros,” a reference to American-Hungarian philanthropist George Soros, who founded the Open Society Foundations (OSF) and has been criticized by leaders in Hungary and Russia for funding human rights and civil society projects in those countries.

In the early morning of November 16, 2018, police detained Professors Tarhanlı and Tanbay, along with ten others, including several staff members from Anadolu Kültür and the head of the Turkish offices of OSF, based on their alleged connections to Mr. Kavala and their alleged participation in the Gezi Park protests. Later in the day, authorities released Professor Tarhanlı and two others after taking their statements. Tanbay was released on November 17. The four have reportedly been barred from leaving the country.

As of this report, additional information, including what charges are being brought, if any, and when the twelve may appear in court, has not been disclosed.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of detentions and travel restrictions against scholars and members of civil society groups in apparent retaliation for their nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of association — 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. 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 association, due process and academic freedom. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.

UPDATE: On November 17, Turkish authorities released Professor Tanbay and ten others from detention after testifying to police.