The arbitrary use of judicial power in targeting signatories of the January 2016 Academics for Peace petition is the latest in a long series of legal charges filed against civil society actors by authorities, and demonstrates the Turkish government’s ongoing campaign to silent dissent in all its forms.
On January 11, 2016, Academics for Peace circulated a petition titled “We Will Not be a Party to this Crime,” calling on the Turkish government to end its siege of Kurdish rebels in southeastern Turkey. After the failed July 2016 coup attempt, more than 4,000 academics were dismissed in a government effort to sweep out any opposition thinkers and Gulenist influences from higher education. Signatories of the Academics for Peace petition, many of whom have already been fired or forcibly retired from their positions, are now being tried on an individual basis on charges of “propagandizing for terror” under the Anti-Terror Law. The first court hearing is set for December 5, 2017, with others distributed among various criminal courts until April 2018. If convicted, more than 100 accused Academics for Peace signatories face up to seven and a half years in jail.
“The continued targeting of academics in Turkey sends a chilling signal on freedom of thought and expression in institutions of higher education,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, PEN America Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs. “We call on the government to cease its criminalization of peaceful expression and safeguard, rather than persecute, prominent writers and thinkers in Turkey.”
Freedom of expression in Turkey has deteriorated at an alarming rate since the coup attempt. Alongside a purging of academics and teachers, dozens of journalists, writers, and activists have been arrested, and more than 180 news outlets have been shut down by presidential decree. Turkey now jails the most journalists in the world, with more than 150 currently behind bars.
November 27, 2017, Pen-America, New York