BY HANK REICHMAN
UPDATE: THIS PIECE WAS PUBLISHED SHORTLY BEFORE WORD BEGAN TO SPREAD OF A POSSIBLE MILITARY COUP IN TURKEY. THE POTENTIAL IMPLICATIONS OF SUCH A COUP, SUCCESSFUL OR NOT, FOR THE DEVELOPMENTS DISCUSSED IN THIS POST ARE, OF COURSE, UNKNOWN AT THIS TIME.
In March, AAUP President Rudy Fichtenbaum and I issued a Statement on Academic Freedom in Turkey, in which we “call[ed] on the Turkish government to stop the witch-hunt against Academics for Peace, respect academic freedom, free the arrested academics, and reinstate all the academics suspended or expelled during the persecution campaign with compensation.” Unfortunately, the situation has continued to worsen. The following paragraphs are taken from an account published In the Heinrich Böll Stiftung on July 13:
Until now, 40 signatories have been discharged from their jobs, 1124 of them are being prosecuted, and 4 have been arrested and released after more than a month which is not the final decision of the court. The next trial will be in September. Besides prosecution by the state, hundreds of signatories face disciplinary measures from their own universities; administrative duties, jury memberships, scholarships, as well as overseas and ÖYP (Program for Lecturer Education) assignments have been cancelled. Apart from the cases which were opened on the ground of having signed the petition, some academicians are also currently accused of spreading terrorist propaganda, inciting the public, as well as defaming the president, the state and its institutions. These allegations are based on updates and posts on the petition, which they shared on Facebook. The Mersin Public Prosecution Office for example has initiated such a trial against four former lecturers at Mersin University, who were previously discharged from their positions, aksing to sentence them to at least 14 years in prison.
A recent development has added a new dimension to the repression: the cases of 44 academicians from 21 universities have been sent to the Turkish Higher Education Council (YÖK). The Council, a relict of the military coup of 1980, is tasked with institutional and academic oversight and censorship of the universities. On July20th, the Supreme Disciplinary Board is going to discuss the cases of the first 25 academicians. Demanded is a punishment which translates as “dismissal and no employment opportunity in any academic or public institution”. The decision that YÖK will give on the 20th, will also serve as an exemplary case for hundreds of academicians whose files will be discussed next. The crucial point in the involvement of the Higher Education Council is that a draft law is currently being discussed in the parliament, which in case it is accepted, should enable the Council to interrogate all university lecturers on its own and ex officio. Currently such discplinary proceedings are decided by the deans of the respective faculty and the university president. Under the new law the Supreme Disciplinary Board of the Higher Education Council will be able to start a direct investigation without waiting for the OK of the dean or university president. This applies to cases in which “an academician in a state or private university, has published, multiplied, distributed posters, banners, bands or the like with political and ideological purposes, or has been engaged in activities with separatist intentions or has been involved in support of actions with a terrorist character”. This vague definition leaves the door for abuse wide open. At the end of such an investigation the Head of YÖK has the power rto decide, if the respective lecturer should be reprimanded, whereas the Head of the Disciplinary Board will be deciding what kind of punishment (wage-cuttings, stopping the progress of rank, dismissing from the profession of university lecturer, or from any other public office) will be administered.
Academics for Peace have courageously called on “everybody who sides with peace and free thought” to join them on July 20 when they will gather in front of the YÖK building in Ankara to speak out against these repressive measures and for peace. American scholars should express our solidarity too.