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 30, 2020

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution


Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On November 30, 2020, a Turkish court convicted scholar Vedat Demir on terrorism related charges and sentenced him to six years and seven months.

Demir is a scholar of communications, formerly at İstanbul University; he is also the former General Secretary of the Turkish Press Council and a journalist. On July 24 and 25, 2016, authorities arrested 31 scholars from İstanbul University, including Demir (see report). On August 3, they released 25 of the scholars but kept Demir and five of his colleagues in custody. Authorities accused Demir of being a member of the Gülenist movement (referred to by the State as “FETÖ”). Demir remained in pretrial detention for seven months, until he was released on February 18, 2017, pending trial.

On November 30, 2020, a court sentenced Demir to six years and seven months imprisonment for “membership in an armed terrorist organization.” The evidentiary bases for the conviction reportedly included five one-dollar bills, personal notes, WhatsApp messages with other academics, and articles Demir authored. The hearing reportedly lasted minutes and Demir’s lawyer was not permitted to speak.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the prosecution of a scholar in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and academic freedom — conduct that is expressly 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. State authorities have a responsibility to abstain from restricting or retaliating against nonviolent expression and academic work. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such actions undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.