Turkey’s academic community under siege - Scholars at Risk report

Scholars at Risk's (SAR) report Free to Think 2020 includes special analysis by the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TIHV) on the repression facing many scholars and students in Turkey four years after purges in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt of 2016.

The report examines 341 attacks on higher education communities in 58 countries and territories, which were reported between Sep. 1, 2019 - Aug. 31, 2020.

On Nov. 19 and 20, SAR is launching the report with a virtual conference titled Free to Think 2020: Responding to Attacks on Higher Education.

“The event will include a discussion on the situation in Turkey, with remarks from Lülüfer Körükmez, of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, and Nil Mutluer, a scholar at Humboldt University,”  SAR said.

TIHV’s section of the report describes Turkey’s academic community as being “under siege’’ and “in paralysis.’’

The organisation notes that following the failed putsch, “a total of 6,081 academics, including 406 signatories of the Peace Petition, were dismissed through emergency decrees based on arbitrary accusations of “affiliations with a terrorist organization,” which were not substantiated before a court of law.``

The report criticises legal changes made to the Higher Education Law, which “dismantled all mechanisms of institutional mediation in the nominations and elections of university rectors, thereby making President Erdoğan the sole arbiter of university leadership.’’

“Rectors directly appointed by President Erdoğan often play a repressive role, stifling student dissent and critical scholarship,” it added.

Also highlighted in the report is a lack of due process in the appeals system for dismissed academics, which have to apply to the State of Emergency Appeals Commission for a reassessment before being able to go to administrative courts if the Commission rejects their appeal.

“As of July 2020, the Commission had received a total of 126,300 appeals; of those, it had issued decisions in 108,200 cases, with 11.3% of cases approved and 88.7% rejected,’’ it said. “It is unclear how academics’ cases fared, but given the significantly low rate of approval, there is no reason to be optimistic for Turkey’s dismissed academics.”

TIHV’s research notes that 97 percent of dismissed academics do not feel safe in Turkey, even if reinstated after a successful appeal to the Commission.

“Banned from civil service and academic employment for life, dismissed academics cope with immense difficulties in their daily lives. They work all sorts of jobs (mostly part-time and piecework) often with no relation to their academic expertise and for which they are vastly overqualified,” the report said.

The result of the repression suffered by dismissed academics in Turkey has been classified as “civil death,’’ and of those who have had medical treatment, 47 percent found to have suffered depression, 31 percent anxiety disorder and 21percent suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, similar levels to those found among victims of torture.

Over half of dismissed academics do not feel free to share expert knowledge and opinion in articles or academic events, and one third impose self-censorship on issues such as Kurdish rights, the Armenian genocide, LGBT+ rights.

Moreover, 84 percent of those polled worried about retaliation for their social media posts.