Academics in Turkey remain under threat; continue to face charges

14 January 2018
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Thousands of academics in Turkey  have been sacked from university jobs under cabinet decrees issued as part of Turkey’s State of Emergency, declared a few days after an attempted coup in the country on July 15, 2016. Some of the academics dismissed from state universities include some 1128  people who signed a petition calling for an end to violence against civilians in the country’s Kurdish-populated provinces at the hands of Turkish security officers, who conducted military operations in the region in late 2015 and early 2016 during curfews announced in those cities.

The petition, dubbed the “Peace Petition” by its supporters, was publicly released on Jan. 11, 2016. The signatories included such academic pop-stars as Noam Chomsky, Judith Butler, Etienne Balibar and David Harvey .

Since then, the peace academics have been targeted extensively by government figures including the country’s powerful President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. At one point, the academics were publicly threatened by a pro-government mafia leader for signing the petition. “I will take a bath in their blood,” said Sedat Peker, a well-known crime boss who is friendly with the government.

Initially, 400 academicians lost their jobs. Three of them -- Esra Mungan, Muzaffer Kaya ve Kıvanç Ersoy were jailed for “terrorist propaganda” and released after spending one month in prison.

Although the situation isn’t inspiring, many others, including filmmakers, journalists, students, psychologists, actors and photographers have shown solidarity with the targeted peace academics, issuing further declarations in support of peace.

On Oct. 5, 2017, nearly one year after the petition was signed, , the first indictment into the academics  was accepted. The prosecutor accuses them of “spreading propaganda on behalf of a terrorist organization,” and they risk up to 7.5 years of imprisonment.

Although the exact number of academics who will be on trial is unknown, the first hearings of 148 of the 1,128 academics were heard on Dec. 5, 2017.

The trials will continue until May 17, 2018.

Charges against those on trial

Although almost all of the academics face charges of "terror propaganda” the situation is a bit different in the case of the four academics who were initially imprisoned for signing the petition.

Academics Esra Mungan, Muzaffer Kaya, Kıvanç Ersoy and Meral Camcı were also initially charged with "terror propaganda" under Article 7/2  Turkish Anti Terrorism Code. However, the charges were converted to insulting Turkey, the Turkish nation, or government organs; acts criminalized in Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code.

Authorization from the Ministry of Justice, necessary for going ahead with the trial, is still pending in their case.