On January 30, 2019, Turkish authorities issued an arrest warrant for Baki Tezcan, a professor at the University of California Davis, for his endorsement of a petition criticizing state and military actions in predominantly Kurdish areas of southeast Turkey.
The petition, organized by a group known as “Academics for Peace,” was issued in January 2016 and initially signed by 1,128 scholars from 89 Turkish universities, as well as more than 300 scholars from outside the country. The petition demanded an end to fighting between Turkish forces and members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, accused the government of the “deliberate massacre and deportation” of civilians, and called on the government to allow independent observers into the region, end curfews, and renew peace efforts.
Following the petition’s publication, state and higher education authorities in Turkey began launching criminal and administrative investigations against the signatories. Since that time, a growing number of signatories have reportedly faced criminal investigations and prosecutions, as well as professional retaliation for endorsing the petition.
Tezcan is a dual Turkish-American national and a renowned scholar of Ottoman history who has taught at the University of California Davis since 2002. On January 30, 2019, the US Department of Justice rejected a request from a Turkish court to have Tezcan testify from the US about a charge against him for “propagandizing for a terrorist organization.” The charge reportedly stems from his endorsement of the petition, which US officials have reportedly denounced as a violation of Tezcan’s rights to freedom of speech. On the same day as the rejection, Turkish authorities issued a warrant for Tezcan’s arrest.
Tezcan reportedly decided to return to Turkey in late June to attend court proceedings. On June 26, 2019, Turkish authorities at Istanbul Airport briefly took Tezcan into custody before he arrived at passport control shortly after his landing in Turkey. He was reportedly held for about three hours before being released. He is scheduled to appear in a Turkish court on July 18.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the prosecution of a scholar in retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the right 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.
UPDATE: On October 24, 2019, a Turkish court acquitted Tezcan of “spreading terrorist propaganda.”