In the latest example of the Turkish government's pressure on scholars, a group of Scholars in the Turkish city of Mersin who have openly criticized Turkey’s military crackdown on ethnic Kurdish communities are now feeling the wrath of the government.
In contrary to all traditional practices and legislations, the Mersin University, administration has cancelled three assistant professors contracts (two lecturers and one research assistant since January 2016.)
The scholars in Mersin are facing serious juridical accusations that were launched in relation to the petition. If convicted they could face up to 15 years of 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 their social media messages, they 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, Mustafa Şener and Atilla Güney have been sued by the public prosecution office for violation of the law on meetings and demonstrations due to a public statement that they participated. The hearing of this case will take place on the July 13th, 2016.
5- Professor Atilla Güney is also sued for ungrounded charges related to his presidency of a charity organisation supported by the Municipality of Akdeniz governed by the pro-Kurdish HDP.
In short, this group of petitioners in Mersin are threatened by prison sentences up to 14.5 years for just using their basic rights of freedom of opinion and expression.
Therefore, we urge you to support our colleagues who are now facing both professional and juridical risks in Mersin. For this purpose, we invite you to attend the hearings on July 12th and 13th in Mersin.
For those who will not be able to participate in the courtroom, we kindly ask you to send us a short video of support recorded by phones, tablets or webcams (max. ten seconds during which we hear your name, title, institution and words of support to our colleagues) to email@example.com.
We will organize a press meeting to share your messages to demonstrate the support of the international community to our colleagues.
The tensions begun in December 2015, when an open letter to Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, signed by academics across the world, including Noam Chomsky and David Graeber. Chomsky has been very critical toward the Turkish government’s treatment of Kurdish minority inside Turkey and other facets of the Erdogan's government. He has raised concerns regarding witch-hunt against academics critical of the AKP government.
The petition was initially released on January 11 with 1128 academics and researchers signatures. The Turkish Council of Higher Education (YÖK) immediately responded that it will take the legal action against the Turkish academics signatories of the "Academics for Peace petition".
Read the petition text here
Following the publication of the petition on January 11, 2016, public authorities placed all of its 1128 Turkish signatories under investigation. Since that time, many of the scholars who signed the petition have reportedly faced criminal, as well as professional retaliation. In Mersin, a middle-sized city on the Mediterranean Coast, Turkish academics who have openly criticized Turkey’s military crackdown on ethnic Kurdish communities are now feeling the wrath of the government and are facing various accusations, threats and sanctions.
Endangered Scholars Worldwide is deeply concerned over the reports from Mersin
While academics outside Turkey may not face a specific threat, it would be a grave mistake to forego 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 anti-intellectual impulses of Turkish society.
That is why it is so vital to show our solidarity with academics in Turkey. We at the Endangered Scholars Worldwide invite you to forsake 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 who stay silent and go 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, turning our backs toward 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 vital. 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, to which Turkey is a 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.