Updated: May 1, 2019
Turkish authorities arrested three scholars who held a press conference on March 10 in connection with signing the petition “We will not be a party to this crime.” At the conference, the scholars expressed their support for scholars under investigation for having signed the petition, which called on the government to end violence toward Kurdish minorities in southeastern Turkey.
The scholars include Esra Mungan of Boğaziçi University; Kıvanç Ersoy of the Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts; and Muzaffer Kaya, formerly of Nişantaşı University. A fourth arrest warrant has been issued for Meral Camcı, formerly of İstanbul Yeniyüzyıl University, who is reportedly out of the country.
Professors Kaya and Camcı were both fired from their positions as a result of signing the petition.
The tensions began in December 2015 when an open letter, signed 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 within the country and other facets of the Erdogan's government. He has raised concerns regarding witc hunt against academics critical of the AKP government.
The petition was initially released on January 11 with over 1,400 academics and researchers signatures. The Turkish Council of Higher Education (YÖK) immediately responded that it would take legal action against the Turkish signatories.
Following the publication of the petition, public authorities placed all of its 1,128 Turkish signatories under investigation. Since that time, many of the scholars have reportedly faced criminal and professional retaliation.
Academics for Peace, March 16, 2016.
Since the announcement of the declaration “We will not be a party to this crime” by the Academics for Peace, more than 60 people have been killed in two bombings at the heart of the capital of Turkey, Ankara. Meanwhile, under the name of military operations against the PKK, the state forces have killed hundreds of civilians in the southern part of the country and many more have been injured and forced to leave their homes.
Still, the academics persist in their call for peace while being repressed in various ways.
On March 14, a warrant was issued for the arrest of four academics who made a press declaration (dated, March 10) about the various consequences of oppressive acts carried out by the government since January 11 against the Academics for Peace. The academics Esra Mungan, Kıvanç Ersoy, Muzaffer Kaya, and Meral Camcı, having read the text in the name of Academics for Peace-İstanbul, stated that many of the signatories were and are being dismissed from their universities, threatened to death, targeted through media, and that a judicial process would be launched against all of them. They also announced that they stood behind their declaration entitled “We will not be a party to this crime.”
Three of the four academics, Esra Mungan, Kıvanç Ersoy and Muzaffer Kaya, were taken under custody on March 14. Meral Camcı is abroad, and thus she was not. These three academics have been indicted for “promoting terrorist organization, acting upon the instructions of the organization,” and taken to the court on March 15. Upon the demand of the persecutor, they were sent to the court with a claim for arrest, and eventually, the court decided for arrest.
Moreover, Chris Stephenson, an academic at İstanbul Bilgi University, present at the court house for solidarity with those three, was taken under custody for carrying a notice of People’s Democratic Party (HDP) calling for Newroz celebrations. He is kept under custody on March 15 and taken to the Kumkapi deportation center today (March 16); we are all concerned that he would be illegally deported.
As warfare has escalated in the southern part of Turkey and spread to the other regions, calls for peace have been increasingly suppressed by the state. The pressure on the Academics for Peace is a clear indicator of the expanding pressure on opposition, which often results in serious human rights violations against oppositional voices.
We would like to inform you about the current developments in Turkey and raise an urgent call for solidarity with the Academics for Peace against the oppression of the state, and we want the grounds for peace to be reestablished before more killings take place in the country.
President Erdogan wants to change definition of "terrorist" to include journalists and politicians.
Right before the arrest of the three academics on charges of terrorist propaganda, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated that the academics would pay a price for their “treachery.”
“It is not only the person who pulls the trigger, but those who made that possible who should also be defined as terrorists, regardless of their title,” Erdoğan said on Monday, adding that they could be journalists, academics, MPs, or human rights activists.
His comments came the day after an attack in the country’s capital of Ankara killed at least 34 people and wounded 125 others when a car bomb was detonated near a main square in the Kizilay neighborhood.
President Erdogan has on numerous occasions threatened Turkish academics, as well as the future of Turkey’s highest court after it ruled that holding two journalists in pretrial detention was a violation of their rights to freedom of expression. The journalists Cumhuriyet, editor of newspaper Can Dundar, and Erdem Gul, Ankara bureau chief, were arrested on charges of revealing state secrets and attempting to overthrow the government. They reportedly face calls for multiple life sentences from prosecutors and will stand trial in March.
Endangered Scholars Worldwide is deeply concerned about the detention of and professional retaliation against scholars 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 global scale.