A Case Against Academic Freedom: “They Are Trying To Isolate The Peace Academics”

On the 5th of December 2017 , the hearings of the penal cases are starting to be held in Turkey, regarding the academics from several universities who have signed the peace declaration named “We will not be a party to this crime” in 2016.  According to the indictment, academics are being charged with “making propaganda for a terrorist organization” and are facing 7,5 years of imprisonment. The indictments are being filed by Istanbul Public Chief Prosecutor’s Office. The exact number of academics who are all charged with the same indictment but on an individual basis. If all first signatories get indicted, the number will exceed a thousand.

The Peace Declaration of the Academics “We will not be a party to this crime” was shared with the public on January 11, 2016 during a press conference. 1,128 academics from 89 universities as well as over 355 academics and researchers from abroad had signed the peace declaration. All of the academics face charges under Article 7(2) of the Turkish Anti-Terror Act which reads as follows:

Turkish Anti-Terror Act – Article 7/2: A person who makes propaganda for a terrorist organization in a way that legitimizes or promotes the methods of coercion, violence or threat used by the organization or encourages to resort to such methods, shall be punished by imprisonment from one year to five years. If this crime is committed through means of mass media, the penalty shall be aggravated by one half. In addition, editors-in-chief (…) 2 … who have not participated in the perpetration of the crime shall be punished with a judicial fine from one thousand to five thousand days’ rates. However, the upper limit of this sentence for editors-in-chief is five thousand days’ rates.

Prosecutor Bozkurt claimed in the bill of indictment that the peace declaration was “an overt propaganda for Kurdistan Worker’s Party/Kurdistan Communities Union (PKK/KCK)”.

Lawyer Meriç Eyüboğlu from the Law Commission of Academics for Peace has given the following interview on the details of the process:

Meriç Eyüboğlu states that the Peace Petition was a text that pointed to an important issue of Turkey and that was not more than an expression of opinion. Although there is only one text, individual lawsuits have been filed for each peace petitioner which means that they will be put on trial on an individual basis. For the moment, peace academics from various universitiesare affected by lawsuits but it is expected that signatories from all universities will be charged.

According to the law in force, says Eyüboğlu, if there is a ‘crime’ at all, all signatories should be on the same trial. But it seems that they aim to isolate the signatories in order to make them face the pressure of a criminal court trial alone. The purpose is to weaken the power of solidarity amongst the peace academics.

It should also be taken into account that there is ongoing trial against the four peace academics Esra Mungan, Kıvanç Ersoy, Meral Camcı and Muzaffer Kaya, who had read the public press statement two months after the first peace petition (March 10th, 2016), upon the severe reactions it had received. According to Eyüboğlu, the indictment has the same framework with the indictment of the lawsuit initiated after the public declaration of March 10th against the four academics. The only difference between the two indictments is that, the second includes a lot of irrelevant information from the last 1,5 years to construct a story line. “We are thus confronted with a situation which is absurd for an indictment: many things which cannot be considered as charges have been included as if they were crimes.”

Eyüboğlu also states that the accusation regarding “the defamation of the dignity of the Turkish republic in the national and international public opinion” is ridiculous: “The declaration was pointing to the necessity of allowing and inviting independent observers and considering their reports on heavy rights violations. On this background, it is only natural that international human rights organisations have always been interested in this trial and the whole process”.

Eyüboğlu pointed out that signatories have been forced to face trials, detention, arrest, exile and death threats following the publication of the peace declaration. “It was not possible that such a clear and enormous violation of rights passed unnoticed. Other than the academics, numerous activists from human rights organisations also attended the trials. Numerous academics abroad also signed the peace declaration in order to protest the rights violations and to show solidarity. It is not hard to guess that all this causes irritation. But is this a legal reason? No. Is it an indication for terrorist propaganda? No, it is not. It is the government’s stance itself that discredits Turkey’s reputation internationally. Not the signatories or the petition which did nothing more than pointing to an important problem of Turkey but the fact that this text created such an uproar and was followed by not a judicial but a political procedure is what discredits Turkey.

Concerning the statement in the indictment according to which the peace declaration altered several concepts in the English version of the text, Eyüboğlu said that this is wrong: “The indictment states that there are elements of terrorist propaganda in the text and these elements are cited as an act of promoting and encouraging violence. These are foregrounded to construct a basis for charging the academics of terrorist propaganda. But there is no legally logical argumentation in the indictment. The story which is told there is irrelevant”.

The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor demands 7.5 years imprisonment in the indictment. Both the declaration of January 11th, 2016 (entitled “We will not be a party to this crime”) and the press statement of March 10th, 2016 (entitled “We insist on our demand for peace”) are cited as bases for the charges. Using the term “so-called peace declaration” for the peace petition, the prosecutor argues that the text is “an explicit public propaganda of PKK/KCK”. The indictment also mentions that foreign organisations cancelled activities they planned in Turkey by referring to the pressures and violations of rights against academics in Turkey, and that the aim was to  present Turkey as a target of international criticism.

The Prosecutor also indicates the courses offered in the solidarity academies founded by peace academics who were dismissed from their university positions as criminal activities that seek to “escalate the problem” and to “make the public and the university youth participate in the crime”.

The prosecutor has argued in the bill of indictment, that “those who prepared the declaration, had changed some expressions in the Turkish and English versions which were drafted in order to call for international signatures.

The prosecutor has also addressed Bilgi University academic member Chris Stephenson from the “Academics for Peace” who was detained in Istanbul Courthouse while supporting three academics who were detained in March 2016 and arrested for signing the peace declaration. In the indictment, Stephenson was accused of carrying materials for “terrorist propaganda” in his bag. The prosecutor claims that his aim in coming to the courthouse was to seek support for the defamation campaign against Turkey by addressing an international community. A lawsuit was filed against Stephenson over “terrorist propaganda” and he was acquitted in the first hearing of his trial on June 23, 2016 as the charges cited in the bill of indictment did not constitute a crime according to the law.  The materials claimed to be materials for “terrorist propaganda” were leaflets for Newroz (New Year) celebrations prepared by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). It is noteworthy that Chris Stephenson’s case is mentioned in the indictment despite his being acquitted.

Source of the interview: https://www.evrensel.net/haber/334412/meric-eyuboglu-imzacilari-yalnizlastirmaya-calisiyorlar


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