Peace petitioners protected by U.S. constitution, Department of Justice tells Turkish court
The U.S. Department of Justice has rejected a request by a Turkish court to question Baki Tezcan, a Turkish academic working at California University, over a petition he signed in 2016 calling for peace in Turkey’s southeast.
Tezcan was one of over 2,000 academics who signed a petition titled “We will not be party to this crime” in January 2016. The petition criticised the Turkish military’s heavy-handed approach in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish south east since the resumption of conflict with Kurdish insurgent groups in 2015.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan responded with a scathing rebuke to the signatories shortly after the petition was presented to parliament. Since then many of the signatories have been dismissed from their positions at universities, subject to travel bans, and in many cases tried.
As of January 30, 2019, 452 of the signatories have appeared before courts, and 90 of these have been handed prison sentences.
Tezcan has been charged with “making propaganda for a terrorist organisation,” and the court in Istanbul overseeing his case sent a request to the U.S. Department of Justice asking for the California-based academic to be turned over to give testimony after he missed the first hearing in his trial.
The department responded that Tezcan’s signing of the petition was protected by the U.S. first amendment constitutional right to free expression. Declarations such as the petition, it said, could not be punished except in very limited cases in which they posed a clear threat. Since the academics for peace petition did not fall under this category, Tezcan would not be handed over, the department said.
The Istanbul court has issued an arrest warrant for Tezcan after receiving the statement from the U.S. Department of Justice.