Photo by Bianet
On January 10, 2016, 1,128 academics published a declaration titled “We will not be party to this crime” on behalf of the Academics for Peace initiative protesting state violence against the Kurdish population in Southeast Turkey. With the participation of more signatories, the number of academics involved reached 2,212. This declaration led President Erdogan to demand that the Higher Education Council (YOK) take immediate action against these “pseudo intellectuals.” Following President Erdogan's demand and with the indictment issued by Prosecutor İsmet Bozkurt, lawsuits began to be filed against the academics on the charge of “propagandizing for a terrorist organization,” as per Article No. 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law. The trials began on December 5, 2017, and following a court recess, have now resumed at five different high criminal courts in Istanbul.
On September 18, 2018, the first day of the resumed hearings, Dr. Lecturer Bulent Kucuk from the Department of Sociology, Associate Professor Çiğdem Kafesçioğlu and Professor N.N. from the Department of History, and Dr. Gaye Yılmaz from the Faculty of Educational Sciences at Boğaziçi University had their third hearings in the 28th Heavy Penal Court. The court sentenced the four academics to 15 months in prison and suspended the sentences. In addition, Hanifi Baris from the University of Aberdeen had his first hearing that day and was released on probation.
In the 35th Heavy Penal Court that day, Lecturer Can Candan, Dr. Aslı Zeren, Assistant Professor Meral Demirel, Professor Reşit Canbeyli from the Department of Psychology, Professor Berna Kılınç from the Department of Philosophy, Assistant Professor Ceren Özselçuk from the Department of Sociology, and Associate Professor Zeynep Gambetti from the Department of Political Science at Boğaziçi University; Semih Savaşal, PhD student at Yildiz Technical University; and Professor Yasemin İnceoğlu from the Department of Communications at Galatasaray University had their first hearings. The cases of these nine academics have been added to those of other Academics for Peace tried in the 35th Penal Court, and their second hearings have been scheduled to occur in six months.
The second day of trials continued with the first hearings of Derya Fırat Şannan and Adil Emre Zeytinoğlu from Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts, Engin Kılıç from Sabancı University, Güventürk Görgülü and Akın Tek from Istanbul Bilgi University, Özge Korkmaz from the University of Michigan, Osman Cengiz Aktar from Bahcesehir University, and Z. U. and B.S. from Boğaziçi University. The third hearing of Naciye Gülengül Altıntaş from Bahçeşehir University was also held.
As of September 19, 287 days since the trials began, the first hearings of 273 of the 1,128 Academics for Peace have taken place. 23 of the academics have been sentenced to 15 months in prison. With the exception of professors Büşra Ersanlı (Marmara University) and Zübeyde Füsun Üstel (Galatasaray University), all sentences are suspended.
Endangered Scholars Worldwide is deeply concerned about the retaliation against scientists and academics, whose rights to academic freedom and to free expression and association are expressly protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both to which Turkey is 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 level. We at Endangered Scholars Worldwide urge Turkish officials to honor their constitutional obligations to protect the civil, political, and academic freedom of scholars and scientists.