Academic’s indictment reflects the Turkish government’s criminalisation of free speech

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”102432″ img_size=”full”][vc_column_text]Hanifi Barış, an outspoken Kurdish academic and lawyer, has been imprisoned by Turkish authorities since 4 July 2018. His detention for sharing press articles on social media is another demonstration of the repeated attacks against freedom of expression and critical opinions in Turkey.

Hanifi Barış obtained his Ph.D from the Centre for Citizenship, Civil Society and Rule of Law at the University of Aberdeen in 2017. Interested in political theory and human rights, he has published several articles and book chapters on Kurdish politics. After completing his dissertation, Barış moved back to Turkey and settled in Istanbul, where he started working as a lawyer. In his roles as an academic and a lawyer, Barış stood out as an ardent defender of human rights. In 2012, he drew public attention for representing a famous conscientious objector and defending his client’s rights to answer to the court in Kurdish. In January 2016, he was one of the Academics for Peace who signed the petition “We will not be a party to this crime”, which denounced the state-sanctioned violence in the Kurdish regions and called on the Turkish government to re-establish peace negotiations.

On 3 July, Barış received a call from Istanbul Bakırköy Police station, asking him to give a statement about his social media posts. The next day, after giving his statement to the police, he was referred to the court, where the prosecutor requested his arrest. He was accused of producing “terrorist propaganda” on the ground of article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law no 3713. Barış had shared news articles and commentaries from international and local media on his Facebook and Twitter accounts. It is worth emphasising that he did not add any of his own commentary on the posts. At the court’s request Barış was sent to prison on the same day. Since then, the appeals of his lawyer, Mehmet Doğan, for his release pending trial have been repeatedly denied. Even worse, when Barış asked to be moved to another dormitory in Silivri Prison, he was sent to an individual cell and remained in solitary confinement for 12 days.

On 23 July 2018, İstanbul’s 29th High Criminal Court accepted the indictment against Barış and re-affirmed his pre-trial detention. The Court based its decision on an ongoing assessment of digital materials that had been supposedly confiscated during an alleged search of his residence and belongings. However, no such search ever took place. This blatant disregard for the rule of law and due process casts serious doubts on Barış’s prospect for a fair trial, highlighting Turkey’s systematic use of pre-trial detention as a means of intimidation.

The news and commentaries shared by Barış on social media were critical of the Turkish government and its policies in Syria. They included articles from websites such as The Guardian and Foreign Policy. It is absurd to construe those articles as “terrorist propaganda” under article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law, which criminalises statements “justifying or  praising or inciting the terrorist organizations’ methods which contain violence, force or threat”. Rather, Barış’s indictment reflects the Turkish government’s criminalisation of free speech and attempt to silence all critical opinions. Just as the repression of critical newspapers and media has been on the rise in recent years, arrests on the ground of social media posts have witnessed a dramatic increase. While the crackdown has particularly targeted Kurdish politicians and activists, journalists, students, lawyers and academics, arbitrary arrests of social media users serve as a warning to all who voice their dissent against the current Turkish regime.

Since early July, Academics for Peace, Barış’s colleagues from the University of Aberdeen and human rights organisations have strongly protested against his detention. An ongoing petition asking for his immediate release has received almost 5,000 signatures. Many of those who signed are internationally-renowned academics. At the University of Aberdeen, which has actively sought to mobilise support since Barış’s arrest, one of his colleagues describes him as “a clear-headed scholar, who draws on his experience as a practising lawyer to make original contributions to thinking on political community and direct or semi-direct democracy”. Barış, he says, is “the kind of scholar who could find common ground with academics from almost any perspective: always good-natured, cheerful and unfailingly kind to everyone he interacted with.”

Barış’s first hearing is scheduled for Sep 18th. International observers are invited to monitor his hearing at Çağlayan Courthouse, with the hope that Barış will be immediately released and cleared of unfounded accusations.[/vc_column_text][vc_cta h2=”TAKE ACTION” h4=”Sign the petition calling for the release of Hanifi Baris” color=”pink”]ACADEMICS, COLLEAGUES AND FRIENDS DEMAND THE IMMEDIATE RELEASE OF UNIVERSITY OF ABERDEEN LAWYER DR HANIFI BARIŞ FROM PRISON IN TURKEY[/vc_cta][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/4″][vc_column_text]

Academic Freedom

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Free speech is vital to the free flow of thoughts and ideas. We protect freedom of expression in academia by challenging attempts to restrict free speech on campus.

Learn more about our work supporting academic freedom.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1536049683445-c8237d77-0e30-6″ taxonomies=”55, 8843″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Nurcan Baysal: In colonised Kurdish society even the flowers can be labelled terrorists

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”102049″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]When Turkish forces attacked Kurdish villages in the southeast of the country in 2016 after the collapse of a ceasefire between Ankara and the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) in July 2015, journalist Nurcan Baysal was there to document the human rights violations. The state declared military curfews, cut off electricity and water supplies and then began bombing civilians in their homes.

“The Turkish media say only terrorists were killed in the basements of Cizre, but 54 of them were students from Turkish universities who went there just to show solidarity and tell the Kurdish people ‘we are with you’,” Baysal tells Index on Censorship. “The security forces burnt them alive — they didn’t want them to return.”

Among the dead were Kurdish fighters, but also journalists and civilians, including children. “With the shooting and bombing, it became too dangerous for people to go outside. Some old people died because they didn’t have enough food.”

Baysal, a Kurdish human rights activist and journalist from the Kurdish-majority province of Diyarbakir, says it was too dangerous even to retrieve those killed from the streets. The children of one dead woman tried in vain to keep dogs from her body by throwing rocks.

“People say things in Turkey are bad, and they are right, but they think it’s the same situation all over the country,” Baysal says. “In the southeast, we aren’t just talking about journalists being locked up. Right now in one area, there are 50 dead bodies still on the ground; they are being eaten by animals.”  

Baysal’s political awakening came in July 1991 when the tortured body of her neighbour, Vedat Aydin, a prominent human right activist and politician, was found under a bridge after he was been taken into police custody. She then began her career working for the UN Development Programme where she focused on poverty and strengthening women’s organisations in Diyarbakir. During this time she established a number of NGOs focusing on the forced migration of the Kurdish people. Her experience saw her take up an advisory role in the Northern Irish peace process in the late 1990s.

Baysal was back in Ireland in May 2018 to collect an award from the Irish human rights organisation Front Line Defenders, who named her its Global Laureate for Human Rights Defenders at Risk for 2018.

(Photo: Jason Clarke for Front Line Defenders)

“There was a lot of coverage in the Irish papers, which is good because you don’t tend to read much coverage of Kurdish issues elsewhere,” she says. “The international community does not pay attention to the violence against the Kurdish people. The international community is indifferent.”

In March 2013 a new peace process began, but by May 2013 Baysal began to see an increase in village guards, paramilitaries hired by the Turkish government to oversee the inhabitants, in half of the areas she works in. “In those villages we were trying to implement a development programme, but I could see something was wrong and I knew what that meant for peace.”

For her work covering what she says aren’t just ordinary human rights violations, but war crimes in Turkey’s southeast, Baysal has endured threats, intimidation, travel bans and worse. Legal cases have been taken against her, two of which have gone to court. “One of these was for reporting on what I witnessed in Cizre, such as the used condoms left by Turkish soldiers which show the horrible things they did there,” she says. “There were other journalists there but they decided not to write about it, and the Turkish media has closed their eyes, so I knew what I had to.”

Her work was on this issue was censored. “In Turkey there is usually a process if you want to censor something, but in this case there was no process, they just did it,” she says.

The court case lasted two years, at the end of which she was given a ten-month prison sentence — one she wouldn’t serve as long as she didn’t re-offend — for “humiliating Turkish security services” with her article and accompanying photographs. She told the judge that she has even worse photographs that she didn’t publish out of respect for the victims.

When Turkey began its military incursion, code-named Operation Olive Branch, into Afrin, Syria, which was under the control of Kurdish YPG forces, in January 2018, Baysal criticised the Turkish government and called for peace in a series of five tweets. Then, on Sunday 21 January 2018, while she was watching a film with her children at her Diyarbakir home, she heard a noise that she couldn’t understand at first. “It took me a moment to realise the noise was coming from my door,” she says. “They tried to break it down, but it was so strong that the wall around it crumbled and in came a 20-man special operations team with masks and Kalashnikovs. I don’t know what they were planning to find in my home, but when they did this they were sending a message and a lot of other people got scared.”

Baysal spent three nights in prison before being bailed following a series of protests, not just locally, but internationally. Three hundred supporters gathered outside the detention centre, she received the support of Kurdish MPs and her case was raised in the European Parliament.

Baysal now awaits trial on charges of “inciting hatred and enmity among the population”. If convicted, she faces up to three years in jail.

A lot of Turkish newspapers now refer to Baysal as a terrorist, she explains. “The word ‘terrorist’ is used so much that right now half the country are terrorists. Academics for Peace? Terrorists. Students? Terrorists. Doctors? Terrorists. Those who use the word ‘peace’? Terrorists.”

“Kurdish society is a colonised society. Two Kurdish wedding singers were put in prison because they were singing Kurdish songs. A student has been imprisoned for whistling in Kurdish. I really don’t know what it means to whistle in Kurdish,” she laughs.

Baysal explains how in many Kurdish areas, Kurdish mayors have been imprisoned, only to be replaced by government-appointed administrators. In one part of Diyarbakir, Kurds had planted flowers in yellow, red and green, the colours of the Kurdish flag. “One day we woke up and they had taken the heads off all the flowers. Why? The administrators said ‘these are the colours of the PKK’.”

In the November 2015 general election in Turkey, the leftist pro-Kurdish HDP surpassed the 10% threshold necessary to win seats in the new parliament. The effect on the peace process was immediate. The Turkish government saw the process as benefitting only the Kurdish parties, not themselves, Baysal says. “If you ask them now, they will say there is peace, and they are only fighting the PKK, but in their eyes you are PKK if you speak in Kurdish.”

Over the last three years, all Kurdish street signs have been replaced with Turkish ones. “They say ‘those Kurdish signs are PKK’,” Baysal explains. And what about Kurdish media? “Well, we don’t have Kurdish media anymore either, they’ve all been closed.”

Various neighbourhoods in the Sur district of Diyarbakır have been demolished as part of an "urban regeneration programme".

Various neighbourhoods in the Sur district of Diyarbakır have been demolished as part of an “urban regeneration programme”

Turkey’s Kurds have known war for a long time, but this time it is different. Rather than fighting in the mountains, war has now been brought into the cities. Since 2015, Turkish forces have demolished entire Kurdish towns and cities. “This is what happened in Sur, which today it is a flattened area,” Baysal says. “Sur is a city that’s 7,000 years old. It’s part of the history of humanity, not just the history of Kurdish people. The story of Armenians, Assyrians — and it’s been ruined.”

Tens of thousands of Kurds have been made homeless by this destruction, with many making their way to other Kurdish towns and cities, while others have set up camp in tents along roads.

In the 1990s, Kurdish people felt that even though they were at war there was always hope, Baysal explains. “With the peace process there was always the belief that things would get better, but today we don’t have hope — no hope at all in the Turkish state.”

“Having seen what has happened in the last three years and how cruel this state can be, I really don’t know what will happen in the future. Everything is unclear. We don’t know tomorrow or even tomorrow morning. This is how we live now.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_column_text]

Turkey Uncensored

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Turkey Uncensored is an Index on Censorship project to tell the stories of censored Turkish writers, artists, translators and human rights defenders.

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Media freedom violations in Turkey reported to and verified by Mapping Media Freedom since May 2014

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Work of the Kurdish and Turkish diaspora essential to strengthen Turkey’s democratic opposition, exiled academic says

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Naif Bezwan cannot pinpoint a certain moment in his life in which he decided to pursue academia. For Bezwan, rather, it has been a gradual process of situating his personal narrative within the context of his Kurdish community, within Turkey and within the world.

Bezwan, currently Honorary Senior fellow at UCL Department of Political Science, was born in Diyarbakir, one of the largest cities in southeastern Turkey. A focal point of conflicts between the Turkish government and insurgent groups, the city has a strong tradition of Kurdish liberation movement. Growing up, Bezwan heard the stories of previous generations, including those of his grandparents and relatives, about how they were repressed by the Turkish state. The trajectory of his academic interests was further shaped by his commitment to the universal human struggle for freedom and equality, as well as his determination for democratic reforms through rigorous inquiry. Several areas of his research and teaching expertise include Turkey’s policy towards Kurds and the Kurdish quest for self-rule.

It is not difficult to understand Bezwan’s motivation behind signing the Academics for Peace petition in January 2016. 1,128 academics from 89 universities in Turkey signed the petition, calling on the Turkish government to end its military operations in the Kurdish region and establish negotiations. This peaceful dissent emphatically rejected violence and yet, the signatories were detained and put under investigation. If found guilty of alleged terrorism charges, the petitioners could face between one and five years in prison.

After signing the petition with 37 colleagues from Mardin Artuklu University, Bezwan faced a disciplinary investigation in February 2016. A second investigation was launched just a few months later, in August 2016, after comments he made about the Turkish military incursion in Cerablus, Syria. This time, however, the consequences were even more severe, unjust and absurd.

The interview with the Turkish daily Evrensel was related to the core areas of his academic interests and expertise. Bezwan stressed the danger of using military forces at home and abroad in dealing with Kurdish rights and demands. He was immediately suspended from his position at Mardin Artuklu University, where he was teaching at the time, and completely dismissed through an emergency decree issued in September 2016.

Being deprived of teaching, conducting research or holding any public position, with the possible consequences of signing the Academics for Peace petition hanging over his head, Bezwan felt he had no choice but to leave his life in Turkey for London in November 2016. After almost a year of living in exile, Bezwan became a CARA (the Council for At-Risk Academics) fellow at UCL from June 2017 to June 2018.

Bezwan spoke with Long Dang of Index on Censorship about the events that transpired, his life in the UK, and his vision for Turkey’s future.

Index: What motivated you to become an academic?

Naif Bezwan: I could not really remember a certain point in my biographical trajectories in which I decided to become an academic, let alone pursuing an academic career. The idea of pursuing a career in academia has not been considered something worthwhile and esteemed by my generation of Kurdish and Turkish leftist intellectuals growing up under the brutal military rule in the 1980s. Quite the contrary, embarking on individualistic remedies was seen as a kind of opportunistic behaviour to save your skin, as it were, at the expense of a cause greater than yourself. So I think it has really been a process of gradual becoming rather than a decision at a certain point in time to be an academic. Having said that, it has nonetheless been a clear and conscious orientation towards, and commitment to, certain values, such as democracy, social change, justice, equality and self-determination that motivated us greatly. This motivation, I remember vividly, went hand in hand with an insatiable curiosity about the human condition, history, philosophy, as well as about the situation and destiny of your own society. All this was coupled with a pronounced sense of agency and responsibility for transforming what we perceive to contradict human dignity and freedom. Ultimately, it has been this intensive search for understanding of what has been in the past, as well as for what human dignity and flourishing requires, that led me to become an “academic”, or more precisely, an expelled one.   

Index: Why did you become interested in working on Turkey’s Kurdish conflict ?

Naif Bezwan: First, as I indicated, it has been due to the life-world in which my political, cultural and intellectual socialisation, dispositions and positions were coming into being and shaped. I was born in a region of Kurdistan in Turkey, in Diyarbakir, where the Kurdish liberation movement has traditionally been very strong, where an awareness of being member of a distinct society is widespread, where interest in politics, culture and world affairs was distinctively strong. Second, I was raised in a family in which memories of brutal repressions of previous Kurdish generations by the Turkish state, including members of my family, namely my grandfathers and their relatives, were kept alive – their engagements were upheld and their sufferings were told, retold and remembered. A third factor that seems to have formed my orientation during my youth was a growing influence of socialist ideas adopted and defended by various Kurdish organisations and movements throughout 1970s and later on. So all these factors have provided a background to my epistemological interest in working on Turkey and Kurdistan. My time and higher education in Germany during my first emigration, and now in London, have bestowed me with the kind of resources needed to study this problem in-depth from a comparative and historical perspective, and with a degree of freedom necessary to inquiry this complex subject-matter.

To study the various aspects of the Kurdish society and conflicts as a Kurdish scholar almost per se makes you suspicious in the eyes of Turkish state authorities and can lead to your expulsion and imprisonment, as has been the case for many scholars over the years. But it can unfortunately also have consequences of a different kind even in Western countries, such as being branded as biased because of your Kurdish identity or being asked not to criticise the repressive policies leading up to your expulsion and emigration.  

Index: On January 2016, 1128 academics signed a petition, entitled “We will not be a party to this crime”, demanding the Turkish government to end military oppression against the Kurdish population. What were your reasons for signing the petition? Were they professional or personal?

Naif Bezwan: It was a combination of both. There was a brutal ongoing war against the Kurdish population, a war whose effects we felt in our daily lives and the lives of our students. I was working at Mardin Artuklu University, which is located at the heart of the Kurdish region at the border between Turkey and Syria. I excruciatingly remember how young people and soldiers were killed everyday, lives and livelihoods destroyed as a result of the termination of the peace process by the government in the summer of 2015. I could not simply stand by and see all these atrocities while the whole community was being destroyed – my students and the people I knew were very affected by this policy of destruction. That is why I signed the petition, knowing that possible severe consequences would be arising from it.

Index: The petition called for a peaceful settlement between the government and the Kurdish population, and yet the government termed it “terrorism”. You were first suspended from your position because of a critical interview on the Turkish military incursion into Syria in August 2016. How do these incidents speak to the government’s system of oppression?

Naif Bezwan: I was suspended from my position for giving the interview with the Turkish Daily National. As an academic for International Relations and Political Science with a specific focus on Turkish domestic politics, political system, foreign policy and Kurdish issue, I argued that the Kurdish issue was essentially entrenched within Turkey, which meant that security would not be possible through more invasion or use of military violence internally and externally. The way to solve the problem, I stressed, was to return to the peace process which had been broken by the government. Only a couple of hours following the interview’s publication, I was called by the faculty administration to be handed down an official document. Upon my arrival, I was given a letter. This letter, in which a reference was made to the interview, was nothing but an order for my suspension that had been signed by the rector of the University. So I was immediately suspended from my position and then requested to give my defence as to why I gave the interview. In my defence, I emphasised that the interview was related to the core area of my expertise, and that suspension of academics and suppression of free speech cannot be the way in which academics arguments should be exchanged and universities function. My assessment, I added, might have been wrong or problematic. If so, however, it should have been responded through counterarguments instead of punitive measures. I have not yet been notified of the outcome of the administrative inquiry, but instead have been completely expelled from my position and public service through a decree-law in September 2016.

Index: Could you describe the hostile environment in Turkey after the failed coup attempt of July 2016?

Naif Bezwan: The coup attempt was a vicious attempt against democracy, but the government used it as the pretext to extend the dimension and size of oppression. In the aftermath of the failed coup, Erdogan said something very treacherously revealing – he depicted the coup as a kind of blessing. Why was it so? Well, this “blessing” was used first to intimidate the whole range of oppression, and second to consolidate his power. It was clear that it would be difficult to live in the country and therefore my partner and I decided to leave the country for the UK on 9th November 2016.

Index: How has life in the UK been for you?

Naif Bezwan: I think every form of forced exile contrary to freely chosen ways of immigration in search for a better life is painful. You are all of a sudden cut off from many things that make your life meaningful – your work, your relationships, your friends and family. After having migrated from Turkey to Germany in 1991, I freely decided to return to Turkey in January 2014, in the hope of doing something meaningful. I had just settled down and once again I was compelled to leave the country. The choice I had to make was between going into a new exile or being deprived of many things and activities that defined me and my way of life.

Being confronted with a forced immigration, one also needs to look on the bright side, try to create new possibilities and involve oneself in activities that would give meaning to one’s life again. In June 2017, almost a year after my arrival in London, I was granted the CARA fellowship at the Department of Political Science at UCL. Thanks to the fellowship, I was able to more systematically and continuously work and promote my studies and public engagement. I have completed two academic articles during the first months of my fellowship. I have been able to do a lot of research and participate in many academic conferences. In a group of other academics and friends, I became involved in establishing a London-based charity, the Centre for Democracy and Peace Research, which provides substantial support for our friends and colleagues back home. In all, being in the UK has been an uplifting opportunity, allowing me to continue with my studies and with my life.

Index: What is your perspective on the newly-expanded powers of Erdogan and their implications for the freedom of academics? What sort of support do you think is necessary for freedom movements to gain momentum? Could momentum be gained from within the country, or is some form of international intervention fundamental?

Naif Bezwan: As far as the character of the new regime is concerned, I think we have to keep in mind that the constitutional changes that introduced the new government system was made under a state of emergency. Opposition was silenced and intimidated, and there was no free press or free speech. This is very indicative of the character of the current regime. It is essentially an authoritarian, autocratic regime based on arbitrariness, with severe restrictions on free speech and a range of repressive policies at its disposal. For example, just three days before Erdogan was sworn in as president, there was an emergency decree through which about 18,000 civil servants, including academics, were dismissed. The message that the government wants to send is: we celebrate our victory through the intimidation and suppression of people, depriving them of basic rights, of the basis for life in dignity and freedom.

Given the nature of the current regime, two major outcomes seem to be possible. First, if there is a convergence between the parliament majority and president, which is currently the case, it would allow the president to exercise a constitutional dictatorship, in which the president can act in absolutely unbounded manners, since the dictatorial exercise of state authority is grounded in the very nature of the constitution itself. The current regime is authoritarian and autocratic in character, based on and emerged out of, extensive policies of intimidation, expulsion, fear and war-mongering. The other option would be a divergence between the parliament majority and president, which would result in an illiberal, dysfunctional regime. So: we had a choice between two equally undemocratic, unreasonable and repressive ways of governing the country. What makes things even worse is the fact that the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) – the far-right, anti-kurdish, anti-western, utterly racist party – now provides the president and his new regime with the necessary majority.

Given the fact that the country is increasingly becoming a big prison for the Kurds, minority groups, academics and critical voices, the work of the Kurdish and Turkish diaspora, as well as the support of the international community, is essential to strengthening democratic opposition and forces of transformation in the country. Due to the monopolization of the press in Turkey by the government, critics have no free space for acting and organizing themselves. This is why it is so important for organizations like Index to give voice to the people, their suffering and their resistance, in Turkey and beyond.

Index: Do you have hope that you will be able to return to Turkey, and pick up from where you left off?  

Naif Bezwan: Going through all this process and being affected by it make you perhaps particularly sensible to the injustices directed at other people. I feel it incumbent upon me to do more academic work and be even more involved in civic duties to change the current situation and the utterly repressive regime. It is not an easy task at all. It requires patience and perseverance on the one hand, and creativity, solidarity and imagination on the other to generate new alternatives. I feel a responsibility to contribute the realising democratic and peaceful conditions in Kurdistan, Turkey and beyond.

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War abroad, repression at home: Turkey’s academics and students caught up in new wave of arrests

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”99469″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]Since Turkey launched a military operation in Afrin, northern Syria, in January, state repression against critical voices has escalated once more. Hundreds of Turkish citizens who expressed their opposition to war, massacres and the displacement of Kurdish civilians have been arrested.

As with two years ago, when a petition by academics against the ongoing war in the Kurdish region was released, demanding peace has been deemed as supporting terror by the government and the pro-governmental media.

On 26 February 2018 a statement from the Ministry of Interior confirmed that 845 people were detained for criticising Turkey’s Afrin operation — code-named Operation Olive Branch — on social media and taking part in protests. Each week now brings new arrests on similar grounds, with students and academics caught up in the wave of repression.

In early February two academics, Onur Hamzaoğlu and Serdar Başçetin, were arrested. Hamzaoğlu is a doctor well known for his research into the correlation between industrial pollution and cancer in Kocaeli Province. He was dismissed from Kocaeli University, along with other signatories of the petition, by an emergency-decree after the attempted coup in July 2016. Hamzaoğlu is a co-founder of the Kocaeli Solidarity Academy and a co-spokesperson of the People’s Democratic Congress (HDK), a union left-wing parties and civil society organisations, formed in 2011 with the aim of recreating politics and promoting a democratic society against social, ethnic, religious and gender discrimination. He was arrested on 9 February before the HDP Congress and is still detained, together with dozens of party members.

Serdar Başçetin was a research assistant who was fired from Erzincan University by emergency decree. He was arrested in Antalya on 13 February for his support to Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça during their hunger strikes and his posts on Afrin on social media. On 29 March he was acquitted of all charges at the first hearing.

Students at Boğaziçi University, one of the leading higher education institutions in the country, known for its autonomy and liberal traditions, have also come under attack. The so-called “Afrin delight” incident started on 19 March when pro-governmental students opened a stand on campus to distribute Turkish delights in honour of the Afrin expedition and the Turkish soldiers who lost their lives there. Tension raised when students carrying a banner reading “No delight for occupation and massacre” protested against the stand and both groups started to fight. What could have remained an incident indicative of the political tensions that exist between students turned into a pretext for a wide police operation on campus. Arrests began on 22 March when five students were rounded-up in the early morning in the dormitories and homes. A press statement organised on the North Campus condemning these arrests gave way to a violent police intervention and further arrests.

In the days that followed president Erdogan himself condemned the “no delight” students, calling them terrorists and adding that these “communists” and “traitors” would not be given right to education. Academics were warned by the president that there would be consequences if they co-operated with these students.

Some students reported being kept for long hours in a police van, severely beaten, insulted and, for some of them, sexually assaulted before being released. Since then, police have been patrolling the campus, leading to fresh arrests. Some of those arrested weren’t even involved in the initial incident. On 3 April, when 15 Boğaziçi students were brought before Çağlayan courthouse, ten were sentenced to pre-trial detention. For their anti-war slogans, they were accused of spreading terrorist propaganda. They remain in prison.

This repression came as no surprise. On 7 January, while speaking at the university on the invitation of a conservative alumni association, Erdogan had criticised the university in the presence of the rector for not being “local and national” enough. Yet Boğaziçi’s loss of autonomy had actually started much earlier. In November 2016, showing no consideration for the summer elections that had seen the previous rector re-elected with more than 80% of votes, Erdogan appointed professor Mehmed Özkan, a Boğaziçi academic who hadn’t even been a candidate in the election. Despite protests by a small group of academics and students, Özkan’s election was greeted with relief by the majority of academics, trusting his promise to protect the liberal tradition of the university and its academic staff. Academic freedom and freedom of expression have come under joint attack from the government and the university administration.

In March 2017 I was dismissed from Boğaziçi, along with professor Abbas Vali, for signing the petition for peace. The Higher Education Council revoked our work permit and the university cancelled our contracts. We were singled out as the two foreign signatories of the petition. Before us, Murat Sevinç, an academic dismissed by emergency-decree from Ankara University, had already been compelled to stop his part-time teaching at Boğaziçi. The rector’s justification for our dismissal was the duty to obey orders – the universal excuse of civil servants trying to escape their responsibilities – and the need to protect the institution against further attacks. Fortunately, this view was challenged by some supportive colleagues and an extraordinary mobilisation of students from the history department who set up a tent throughout the Spring term on the North Campus, where they attempted to raise awareness of our dismissal by inviting academics to participate in outdoor lectures and workshops.

Yet it was already clear by then that the attacks against critical academics across the country and the appointment of a pro-governmental rector had dramatically shrunk the space for critique and opposition on campus. As with elsewhere in Turkey, fear of repression and a disillusionment with the possibility for change grew, and with it, self-censorship spread among academics and students.

Since then, things have only worsened for critical academics and students across the country. In October 2017 the Ministry of Justice made public that more than 36,000 students were detained in Turkey, raising to nearly 70,000 when open university students are included. While the number of students currently detained is likely to be even higher, these figures reflect the heavy price paid by critical students, deprived of their liberty and their right to education for expressing their opposition to state policy. Meanwhile, the trial against the Academics for Peace is ongoing in Istanbul and several academics have already been sentenced to a 15-months suspended prison sentence for spreading terrorist propaganda because they signed the 2016 petition. On 4 April, professır Füsun Üstel, from Galatasaray University,  another academic was given a 15-month prison sentence, with the right to appeal the decision.

Aside from the purges, the state authorities encourage a culture of denunciation through dedicated online platforms, where complaints can lead to a police or administrative investigation. The Education Council relentlessly fights against the remaining spaces of academic freedom, relying on the active complicity of most universities’ administrative boards. Both academics’ right to critique and students’ right to education are under threat. After the Boğaziçi incident, the Higher Education Council announced that they considered adopting new disciplinary procedures against students. The same day, in a statement published on Boğaziçi University website, the rectorate denounced terror, welcomed police intervention on campus and announced disciplinary procedure for students who protested against the Afrin expedition, cynically referring to the university’s commitment to “freedom of expression” of the other camp.

While an international petition now calls for solidarity with Boğaziçi students, academics and students must find ways to stand together for a free and diverse university, despite the threats, arrests and intimidation.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1523355691217-4bb55336-d4a1-10″ taxonomies=”8607″][/vc_column][/vc_row]