Serious threats to academic freedom in Turkey
In Turkey, 2218 researchers and faculty have signed a peace petition asking for a cessation of the violence in Southeastern Turkey. The signatories are now targeted for exercising their right to freedom of expression.
The petition said,
“The Turkish state has effectively condemned its citizens in Sur, Silvan, Nusaybin, Cizre, Silopi, and many other towns and neighborhoods in the Kurdish provinces to hunger through its use of curfews that have been ongoing for weeks. It has attacked these settlements with heavy weapons and equipment that would only be mobilized in wartime. As a result, the right to life, liberty, and security, and in particular the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment protected by the constitution and international conventions have been violated. We demand the government to prepare the conditions for negotiations and create a road map that would lead to a lasting peace which includes the demands of the Kurdish political movement….”
The signatories of this petition – published in January 2016 and entitled We will not be party to this crime - have since been the target of various accusations, harassment, disciplinary and juridical measures. I have been informed that 40 have been fired from their jobs and that 4 have been imprisoned for more than a month. 1124 signatories face criminal investigation under charges of “spreading terrorist propaganda.” Hundreds of academics and research assistants have been removed from administrative positions or academic juries, their scholarships terminated or leaves for research visits abroad rescinded. An additional 611 faculty members, as well as the group of academics who were sacked by the military junta after the military coup of 1980, and who expressed their support for the “Academics for Peace,” are now also coming under investigation.
There have so far been 37 summary dismissals (11 of them from public universities and 26 private) which have been finalized. These are mostly assistant professors whose contracts have not been renewed, or in the case of the private universities, whose contracts have been outright terminated. As far as we know, 10 academics have been forced to resign.
Most recently, the Higher Educational Council (HEC), acting in its capacity as the higher disciplinary authority, has received dossiers from 21 different universities demanding the barring of 44 signatories from public service. The HEC announced that it would hear 25 of these cases on the 20th of July 2016. Since the verdicts would have determined the fate of hundreds of other signatories whose files are pending, the “Academics for Peace” have called upon all faculty members, health professionals, lawyers, trade unions and civil societal organizations to join them in Ankara, in front of the HEC building, on the 20th of July, for peace and in defence of basic freedoms. However, on the 12th of July, in an unexpected move, the HEC has indefinitely postponed the hearings.
In Mersin, six of the signatories from the Mersin University are additionally on trial for “spreading terrorist propaganda,” “inciting hatred and hostilities among the populace,” for facebook material they have shared, and “insulting the President of the Republic” for a demonstration they have joined.
The New Higher Education Bill
It should be noted that these disciplinary proceedings are being conducted in defiance of the Constitutional Court ruling that the present disciplinary regulations are unconstitutional and have no legal basis.
It should also be remembered that a new Higher Education Bill has been introduced to the National Assembly on the 24th of March 2016. If passed, this will empower the HEC to discipline individual academics at its own discretion, and even to dismiss them; this will mean more centralised repression of academic freedoms and the freedom of expression at the universities.
It is of the greatest importance for scientists abroad to make their voices heard by writing to the Prime Minister, Minister of Education and the President of the HEC, in defence of academic freedom and freedom of expression.
This blog was published before the attempted coup on July 15