On April 5, 2018, a Turkish court sentenced two prominent Turkish academics to fifteen months in prison on charges of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization” for signing a 2016 peace petition.
Professor Zübeyde Füsun Üstel of Galatasaray University and Associate Professor Veli Polat of Istanbul University were among the 1,128 academics who signed the petition in 2016 that called on the Turkish government to cease violence and comply with international law during military operations in the southeast of the country, a region that is predominantly Kurdish.
The petition, titled “We will not be a party to this crime!,” was published in January 2016.
Calling themselves “Academics for Peace,” the 1,128 signatories included Turkish scholars and prominent foreign academics such as American linguist Noam Chomsky. They said the Turkish government was condemning residents of towns in the southeast to hunger through the use of curfews. They called for a solution to the conflict, including talks with the Kurdish political movement.
The peace declaration frustrated Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, leading to retribution against the academics. Some of the insults Erdoğan used included “so-called intellectuals,” “a flock called intellectuals,” “traitors” and “rough copies of intellectuals.”
Hundreds of academics who signed the declaration were detained when police raided their homes and offices across Turkey after the declaration was announced on January 11, 2016. Scores were removed from their jobs.
Since the 2016 attempt coup, a total of 5,717 academics at 117 universities have been dismissed from their jobs due to government decrees issued under the ongoing state of emergency. According to a BBC Turkish report in July, 23,427 academics have been negatively affected by the state of emergency that was declared following the coup attempt.
Professors Polat and Üstel appeared for their third hearing at the Istanbul 32nd High Criminal Court on April 4, 2018, during which both were sentenced.
Endangered Scholars Worldwide is concerned about the detention of and professional retaliation against academics in Turkey in response to their exercising of the rights to academic freedom, free expression, and free association, conduct that is expressly protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both to which Turkey is a party. The ongoing tensions in Turkey have a profoundly destructive effect on academic freedom and represent a grave threat to higher education on a national scale. We at Endangered Scholars Worldwide urge Turkish officials to honor their constitutional obligations to protect the institutional integrity of universities and the academic freedom of scholars.