Academics appear before judges for calling for peace

18 January 2018
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Another twelve academics appeared before courts in Istanbul on Jan. 18, facing terror propaganda charges for signing a petition in early 2016 which called on the Turkish government to put an end to security operations in Turkey’s mostly Kurdish-populated provinces, during which many rights violations targeting civilians allegedly occurred.

More than 1000 academics will appear before judges for signing the petition in the coming months. So far 77 academics have attended trials, the first of which was on Dec. 5, 2017.

Bianet’s Beyza Kural  was at the Istanbul Courthouse on Jan. 18, following the trials. Here is a summary of what she reported:

The İstanbul 35th High Criminal Court heard the first sessions in the trials of 12 academics from Marmara University, Istanbul Technical University (ITU) , Yıldız Technical University (YTU) and Özyeğin University.

Those on trial were  Dr. Ali Serdar (Özyeğin), Professor Ayşe Serdar (İTÜ), Research Assistant Dr. Şükran Çavdar (İTÜ), Assistant Professor Leyla Şimşek Rathke (Marmara) Professor Günay Göksu Özdoğan (Marmara University), Instructor Cansever Güner (Marmara), Research Assistant Can Yalçın Armutçuoğlu (Marmara), Didem Gürses (YTU), Research Assistant Burcu Yılmaz Gündüz (Marmara), Instructor Nergis Perçinel (İTÜ), doctoral student Semih Savaşal (YTU), Dr. and  Ayşe Zeynep Akalın Özdemir (İTÜ).

The indictment claims that the academics spread propaganda for a terrorist organization by signing the petition. The prosecutor who drafted the indictment is İsmet Bozkurt.

Ayşe Zeynep Akalın was in the courtroom in the first hearing. She said that several statements about the peace petition had been included in the indictment, adding that these statements should not be a part of the investigation. She also said an English-language translation of the Peace petition included in the file was wrong. Her lawyer demanded that Akalın’s file is merged with the other trials against academics and also demanded that the accusation be changed to “insulting a state institution,” under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) rather than “propaganda for a terrorist organization.”

This demand is being made in most other trials, as three academics were charged under 301, for which, the penalty is less severe.

The court rejected all demands of the defense.

In her defense statement, Akalın said she had a firm belief that civilians should be protected from violence. “It is in keeping with this belief that I signed the petition, which didn’t contain a word inciting the public to violence.” She also said she had used her freedom of expression.

The hearing was adjourned until June 28.

ITU academic Nergis Perçinel was tried in the second hearing of the day. She denied the charges of propaganda of a terrorist organization and asked for her acquittal. İTÜ imzacılarından Nergis Perçinel duruşma salonunda hazır bulundu. Yazılı savunmasını okudu. Quoting writer Ursula K. Le Guin, she said “The idea is like grass. It craves light, likes crowds, thrives on crossbreeding, grows better for being stepped on.” Her trial was also adjourned until June 28.

Marmara University academic Burcu Yılmaz Gündüz also appeared in the courtroom, asking for her immediate release in the third hearing at the 35th High Criminal Court. Defense lawyers repeated earlier demands, and the presiding judge said he had given the same earlier decisions. The session was adjourned again until June 28.

Retired YTU academic Didem Gürses, who appeared in the same court in the 4th haering of the day, also demanded that her charges be converted to 301. The Court said it was going to ask for a copy of the case files of the trial being heard by Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court, where three academics are charged under 301. The session was also adjourned until June 28.

Other trials included that of YTÜ’s Semih Savaşal -- who is abroad as part of an academic programme (Savaşal’s next hearing will be in Sept. 18), Can Yalçın Armutçuoğlu from Marmara University, was in the courtroom with her lawyer asking for additional time to submit a defense statement. The next hearing will also be on june 28

Leyla Şimşek, a former instructor at Marmara University (hearing adjourned until June 28) , retired Marmara University Professor Günay Göksu Özdoğan (next hearing for her will be on July 12).

ITU’s Şükran Çavdar wasn’t in attendance, with the court accepting the excuse cited for her lawyer. ITU Professor Ayşe Serdar was in presence ( adjourned until July 12), Özyeğin University academic Ali Serdar was also in court (adjourned until  July 12).

Marmara University academic Cansever Güner wasn’t in the courtroom with her lawyers notifying the court that her residential address had changed.