Academics for Peace – Imprisonment, censorship continue

In 2012, the Turkish government announced that it had participated in peace talks with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). This was followed by a mutual ceasefire in 2013. However, this peace process was subsequently called off and the Turkish government introduced curfews in several Kurdish towns, most notably in Sur, Silvan, Nusaybin, Cizre and Silopi.

A group of academics formed the initiative called Academics for Peace in 2012 to monitor the peace process and to contribute to the search for a peaceful solution from an academic perspective.

The curfews in Kurdish towns brought about extreme violations of civilian human rights. In response to these dreadful violations, on 11 January 2016 the Academics for Peace released a petition entitled ‘We will not be a party to this crime’. The primary purpose of this petition was to urge the different parties to find a peaceful solution. In particular it called on the Turkish government to end the curfews in Kurdish provinces.

The reaction of the Turkish state has been formidable. Some 1,128 academics initially signed the petition. This number is thought to have risen to over 2,200 as of today. Academics in Turkey and abroad have started to sign the petition in protest against the Turkish government’s mistreatment of the first signatories and also as an act of solidarity with the Academics for Peace.

Trials, delays and prison

As of 28 May 2018, around 463 academics are estimated to have lost their jobs because they signed this petition. Apart from 26 academics who have been forced to retire, 437 academics have been dismissed without due process or legal recourse.

This means that 437 academics have lost their salaries. Their national insurance numbers have been blacklisted which makes it impossible to find new jobs. This situation has been described as social and professional death.

As of 9 June 2018, 322 of the signatories have been charged and face trial. The signatories are not all being tried under one indictment. Cases have been filed individually. Thus, the number is likely to increase because public prosecutors are filing cases gradually. The last wave of cases was filed last week. As of today, the number of academics on trial is expected to be over 322.

Although the cases are filed individually, the majority of the indictments are carbon copies of each other. In most indictments, the academics are accused of terrorist propaganda, which is regulated under Turkish Anti-Terror Law, Article 7/2.

Although the facts and evidence provided by the public prosecutors are the same, the accusations differ. In a small number of cases some academics are accused of being a member of a terrorist organisation (Article 314/2 of the Turkish Criminal Code); aiding and abetting but not being a member of a terrorist organisation (Articles 220/6 and 220/7 of the Turkish Criminal Code); or insulting the Turkish nation, the Turkish Republic and the organs and institutions of the state (Article 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code).

This is ironic because some public prosecutors have interpreted the very same facts and evidence in a dramatically different way that corresponds with the actus reus and mens rea of a more serious crime.

Apart from the inconsistency within the accusations, there is another legal issue that is worth underlining. As noted, some of the cases were filed earlier than others. As a result, some of the first instance courts have started to deliver their judgments. If we analyse the judgments delivered up to now, there has been a tendency to sentence the academics to 15 months in prison.

The first instance courts have been inclined to delay the pronouncement of judgment as regulated under the Turkish Criminal Procedure Law Article 231/2. This article delays the pronouncement of judgment for five years.

This is problematic on many levels. I will only mention one of the hardships it causes in this article. An academic whose pronouncement of judgment is delayed is required not to intentionally commit another crime over the course of these five years. This paves the way for the de-politicisation of academics.

Article 231/2 is most probably applied to function as a way of preventing the Academics for Peace from getting involved in further political activities and curbing their freedom of expression.

Some of the academics on trial have accepted the application of this delay while others have declined. Those who have declined have been sentenced to 15 months in prison. These judgments are now in the appeal process stage. However, those cases where the judgment has been delayed cannot be appealed against.

There are several ways to show solidarity with the Academics for Peace in Turkey.

First, you can keep yourself updated about developments on the Academics for Peace website. You can find updated information on the criminal proceedings and ways to connect and collaborate with Academics for Peace.

Secondly, you can show your support through boycotting the universities that dismissed them. You can find detailed information on how and what to boycott at this link.

Elif Ceylan Ozsoy completed a PhD in law at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom and is a member of the Izmir Bar Association. Email: e.c.ozsoy@exeter.ac.uk.