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: December 19, 2018

Attack Types: Prosecution


Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On December 19, 2018, the İstanbul 37th Heavy Penal Court convicted and sentenced scholar and human rights defender Şebnem Korur Fincancı to two years and six months imprisonment on a charge of “propagandizing for a terrorist organization.” The charge is in apparent retaliation for her endorsement of a January 2016 petition criticizing state and military actions in the mainly Kurdish southeastern part of the country.

Following the publication of the petition (known as the “Academics for Peace Petition”) in January 2016, Turkish state and higher education authorities began taking sweeping actions against its signatories. All 1,128 signatories were immediately placed under investigation, with many later suffering professional retaliation, detentions, arrests, prosecutions, travel restrictions, and other pressures.

Dr. Fincancı is a prominent scholar of forensics, a human rights activist, and chair of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TIHV). Dr. Fincancı has for years faced retaliation for her human rights activism. In 2016, she was detained and prosecuted for a campaign supporting press freedom (see report) and Turkey’s Higher Education Council ordered her university classes cancelled in connection with her endorsement of the Peace Petition (see report).

At her fourth court hearing, the court convicted and sentenced Dr. Fincancı to two years and six months imprisonment for her endorsement of the Peace Petition. The presiding judge did not reduce or suspend her sentence, reportedly citing Dr. Fincancı’s alleged lack of remorse regarding the charge. Dr. Fincancı’s counsel has filed an appeal.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the prosecution of a scholar in retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and 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. Where they are a part of a widespread pattern, such incidents have a profoundly chilling effect on academic freedom, undermine democratic society generally, and may represent a grave threat to higher education on a national scale. State authorities have an obligation to comply with internationally recognized standards of academic freedom, freedom of expression, and freedom of association, as well as due process and fair trial.