Turkey Resumes Academic Purge amid Pandemic

Photo credit: Bianet

On Friday, September 25, 2020, Professor Emine Beyza Ustun, civil engineer and the 25th parliamentary term HDP (Democratic People’s Party) deputy at the Turkish Grand National Assembly, and Cihan Erdal, sociology doctoral candidate at Carleton University, were detained in Istanbul, Turkey. Their arrest was part of a simultaneous operation in seven provinces. The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s office has issued detention warrants for 24 HDP members including acting mayors, civil society activists, and academics, on charges of terrorist propaganda based on their participation in 2014 protests in the majority Kurdish eastern and southeastern regions. On October 1, after their deposition hearings in Ankara, Ustun and Erdal were arrested along with more than 10 former or current HDP members and peace activists.

During her tenure at Yildiz Technical University and since Ustun has been recognized for not only her outstanding scholarly work but also her environmental activism and critique of government policies concerning clean and sustainable energy and surrounding environmental risks. She was previously targeted in social media and faced legal charges as a signatory of the Academics for Peace petition. Erdal, who was previously an executive committee member of the HDP and one of the founders of the LGBT Peace Initiative in Turkey was detained in Istanbul, where he was visiting family and awaiting approval for travel to begin in-person interviews for his fieldwork in Turkey, Athens, and Paris.

Detainees were not permitted to see their lawyers or family members for nearly 48 hours, and their detention period was extended to four days without reasonable doubt. According to their lawyers, the circumstances of this extended detention was not meeting the hygiene and physical distancing guidelines set by the World Health Organization and vocally repeated by the Turkish authorities. Two detainees got food poisoning in custody, for which the authorities denied responsibility. It is also unclear why the investigation has been reassumed after years of inaction. According to their lawyers, the timing of the investigation and the prosecutor’s ruling are politically motivated; it is an instrumentalization of the rule of law to silence democratic opposition.

Endangered Scholars Worldwide strongly condemns the detentions of Ustun and Erdal. ESW has been monitoring the struggle of academics in Turkey since the attempted coup in 2016, making inquiries on a daily basis. The ongoing tensions in Turkey have had a profoundly unsettling effect on academic freedom and continue to pose a grave threat to higher education on a national scale. The Constitutional Court’s 2019 decision to drop terrorism charges against the Peace letter signatories was a significant development towards full exoneration and reinstatement of those who were dismissed from their positions. However, new investigations have since been launched to silence and criminalize the peaceful exercise of their freedom of expression and 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, to both of which Turkey is party.

ESW urges the Turkish authorities to respect, guarantee, and implement the provisions and principles of human rights as specified in international conventions and treaties and emphasized by the Turkish Constitutional Court’s landmark decision, and to drop any charges against the accused arising from their nonviolent exercise of the rights to expression, association, and assembly.

Please send appeals to the following:

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

The Office of the President

Cumhurbaskanlıgı Külliyesi

06560 Beştepe, Ankara


Fax: +90 312 525 58 31

Abdülhamit Gül

Minister of Justice

06669 Kızılay, Ankara


Fax: +90 312 419 3370

Email: info@adalet.gov.tr

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