ISTANBUL (Hurriyet Daily News) — Turkish police have detained at least 18 academics who signed a petition calling for an end to military operations in southeastern Anatolia, while more than 130 academics are facing criminal charges. The moves come just days after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed the signatories for making “terrorist propaganda.”
Universities and prosecutor’s offices across the country started to launch investigations into some of the 1,128 local and international academics and intellectuals who fall within the state’s jurisdiction, arguing that the petition went beyond the limits of academic freedoms.
In a dawn operation in the northwestern province of Kocaeli on Jan. 15, police raided the houses of 19 academics and detained 15. Provincial police head Levent Yarimel told the press a detention warrant had been issued for a total of 21 academics in the city.
In the northwestern province of Bursa, meanwhile, three academics were also detained.
Speaking in Sultanahmet after Friday prayers on Jan. 15, President Erdogan again denounced the signatories of the document, which included U.S. philosopher Noam Chomsky, saying that “those who do not want to take part in politics in parliament should dig trenches or go to the mountains.”
“Our nation should see who is who. Being a professor does not make someone an intellectual. These are the darkest of people. They are cruel people, because those who ally with cruelty are themselves cruel,” Erdogan said on Jan. 15, referring to the detention of academics.
Meanwhile, the Anatolian, Istanbul and Bakirkoy chief public prosecutors also launched investigations against at least 123 academics employed by universities in Istanbul. Anadolu initiated investigations on 82 academics and 41 academics in Bakirkoy while public prosecutor of Istanbul did not disclose a number.
Some of the academics employed by universities outside of Istanbul are also facing charges as public prosecutor’s offices in Bartin, Diyarbakır, Kayseri, Mardin and Samsun also announced that investigations would be launched against academics that have signed the petition, although a clear number was not provided to the press.
According to reports, the academics are being charged with violating the controversial Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, according to which it is illegal to insult the Turkish nation, the state of the Turkish Republic or the Grand Assembly of Turkey and the state’s judicial institutions. The academics are also accused of “terrorist propaganda” and of “inciting hatred and enmity.”
This view was reiterated early on Jan. 15 by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu who claimed no country would consider “supporting or collaborating with a terror organization” as freedom of expression, implying the petition aimed at supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
“There is no difference between supporting terror financially or politically,” Cavusoglu argued, underlining Turkey has been going through a “sensitive” period in its history.
The president’s call for action of legal institutions and university senates, coupled by criticisms of Justice and Development Party (AKP) government officials, led to a series of administrative inquiries by universities which employ some of the academics in question.
At least 41 academics are facing, among other punishments, suspension and dismissal. This figure does not include the academics whose number has so far been disclosed only as “a group of” academics by Cukurova and Gediz universities.
The United States, however, condemned the arrests made in Turkey.
A wave of detentions of academics who signed a petition calling upon the government to end military operations in East and Southeast Anatolia has prompted the top U.S. diplomat in Turkey underlining freedom of expression, adding that criticism of a government cannot be considered “treason.”
“We are seeing reports of academics being investigated and subjected to penalties for expressing their opinions about the conflict in the southeast. While we may not agree with the opinions expressed by those academics, we are nevertheless concerned about this pressure having a chilling effect on legitimate political discourse across Turkish society regarding the sources of and solutions to the ongoing violence. In democratic societies, it is imperative that citizens have the opportunity to express their views, even controversial or unpopular ones,” U.S. Ambassador John Bass said in a written statement posted on the official Twitter account of the U.S. Embassy to Turkey on Jan. 15.
“Expressions of concern about violence do not equal support for terrorism. Criticism of government does not equal treason. Turkish democracy is strong enough and resilient enough to embrace free expression of uncomfortable ideas,” Bass said.