Academics for Peace sentenced to prison in "Kafkaesque" trial

Nine Turkish doctors and academics who signed a peace petition in 2016 have been handed 15-month prison sentences after being charged with “propagandising for a terrorist organisation.”

The academics were among 26 attending hearings related to the same case on Wednesday in four separate courts. While those academics who chose to accept guilt had their sentences deferred, the three who did not - Ayşe Erzan, Nesrin Sungur Çakmak and Özdemir Aktan, will serve their sentences in prison.

Over 2,000 “Academics for Peace” handed a petition to the Turkish government in January 2016 entitled “We will not be party to this crime.” The petition criticised the practices of Turkish security forces in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast after fighting resumed with armed Kurdish groups in 2015.

The outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) had entered peace talks with the Turkish government to end decades of conflict in 2013, but the talks broke down in 2015. Heavy fighting between Turkish forces and groups affiliated with the PKK left urban centres in Turkey’s southeast in ruins, with civilians trapped in their homes under strict curfews.

Shortly after it was submitted to the government the petition received an angry response from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who called the signatories “pseudo-intellectuals” and accused them of treachery for demanding foreign observers oversee the conflict zones.

Legal repercussions against the signatories soon followed, leaving many stripped of their academic positions and passports, left without funding, or facing arrest and trial.

The trials of the academics have gained international interest from universities and human rights organisations. One international observer who attended a hearing of the trial in Istanbul on Wednesday described a “Kafkaesque” trial in which the judge and prosecutors ignored the defence lawyers before reading off scripts used in previous trials and sentencing the defendants.

“And so the Kafkaesque farce in this Castle of Injustice concluded. 10 people branded terrorists for wanting peace. Legal argument ignored in a law court. And also, a young Ph.D. student, now branded a criminal and her academic career in Turkey destroyed,” the observer, St. Andrews University Psychology Professor Stephen Reicher, said.