Updated: May 1, 2019
A group of scholars in the Turkish city of Mersin who openly criticized Turkey’s military crackdown on ethnic Kurdish communities are now feeling the government's wrath.
In contrary to all traditional practices and legislations, the Mersin University administration has cancelled three assistant professors contracts (two lecturers and one research assistant).
The scholars in Mersin are facing serious juridical accusations that were launched in relation to the Academics for Peace petition. If convicted, they could face up to 15 years' imprisonment on accounts of "propaganda against the government " and “insulting the Turkish government."
The ongoing lawsuits toward academics in Mersin are as follows:
1. The first case has been initiated against the assistant professors Hakan Mertcan, Mustafa Şener, and Selim Çakmaklı for the charge of “insult of the president” due to their Facebook posts.
2. Again due to social media messages, the scholars have been sued for “propaganda for the terrorist organization,” as well as “provocation of the people for hatred and hostility.” The hearing of the second trial in which research assistant Esin Gülsen is also accused will be held on July 12, 2016 in Mersin.
3. In addition to these two cases, the public prosecution office of Mersin has launched an investigation against Mertcan, Gülsen, and Çakmaklı on account of “insult of institutions and organs of the Turkish state” through Facebook posts. These academicians thus risk a third lawsuit.
4. Apart from Facebook posts, two of the petitioners, Şener and Güney, have been sued by the public prosecution office for violation of the law on meetings and demonstrations due to a public statement in which they participated. The hearing of this case will take place on the July 13, 2016.
5. Güney is also being sued for ungrounded charges related to being president of a charity organization supported by the Municipality of Akdeniz, which is governed by the proKurdish HDP.
In short this group of petitioners in Mersin are threatened with prison sentences of up to 14.5 years simply for exercising their basic rights of freedom of opinion and expression.
We urge you to support our colleagues and invite you to attend, if possible, the hearings on July 12 and 13 in Mersin.
For those who will not be able to participate in the courtroom, we ask you to send us a short video of support recorded by phone, tablet, or webcams (max. ten seconds during which you will state your name, title, institution, and words of support) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will organize a press meeting to share your messages.
The tensions began in December 2015 when an open letter, siguned by academics across the world including Noam Chomsky and David Graeber, was sent to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Chomsky has been very critical toward the Turkish government’s treatment of Kurdish minority and toward other facets of the Erdogan's government. He has raised concerns regarding a witch hunt against academics critical of the AKP government.
The petition was initially released on January 11 with 1,128 academics and researchers signatures.
Following the publication of the petition, public authorities placed its 1,128 signatories under investigation. Since that time, many of the scholars have reportedly faced criminal charges and professional retaliation.
While academics outside Turkey may not face a specific threat, it would be a grave mistake to forsake the fruitful progress that had just begun to make itself felt on Turkish campuses. To allow Turkish academics to be vilified and isolated would be to concede defeat to the most conservative and antiintellectual impulses of Turkish society.
It is vital to show our solidarity with academics in Turkey. We at the Endangered Scholars Worldwide invite you to support our Turkish colleagues at this crucial time. We must remember Hannah Arendt's warning that the world's greatest atrocities are not merely the result of leaders misusing their power, but also of average citizens staying silent and going about their business: “we have hardly the time, let alone the inclination, to stop and think."
We like to think that the atrocities of the past cannot be repeated, yet by turning our backs on our Turkish colleagues and neglecting the shameful government proposal "to choose a side" by the scholarly community, we risk allowing a dangerous climate to intensify, one that we may regret for decades to come. This is why the subsequent solidarity petitions are so important. They indicate to the Turkish government and to the world an ongoing commitment to securing Turkish academia as part of a global community of researchers and intellectuality despite the challenges they face in their own country.
Endangered Scholars Worldwide is deeply concerned about the detention of and professional retaliation taken against scholars in Mersin in response to their exercise of the rights to academic freedom, free expression, and free 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, both to which Turkey is party. The ongoing tensions in Turkey have a profoundly unsettling effect on academic freedom and represent a grave threat to higher education on a national scale.