New gov’t bill paves the way for academic dismissals from universities

A new bill proposed by Turkey’s Islamist, ultranationalist government that will pave the way for academic dismissals from universities on accusations of disseminating terrorist propaganda, in the process eroding academic independence and freedom, has been approved by the Turkish parliament’s National Education, Culture, Youth and Sports Committee.

The bill extends the scope of “[disciplinary] grounds that require dismissal from public service,” the Birgün daily reported on Monday.

The bill amends the Higher Education Board (YÖK) Law and contains provisions facilitating disciplinary action against academics.

With the proposal, disciplinary actions against academics in the form of “warning,” “reprimand,” “salary cut” and “dismissal from public service” in the Higher Education Board Law were revised. Accordingly, the scope of the section on “grounds requiring dismissal from public service” has been expanded.

The new bill replaces the existing clause “carrying out or supporting acts of terrorism” with “disseminating the propaganda of terrorist organizations, acting in unity with or helping these organizations, making use of or providing public means or resources to support these organizations.”

During the debate in the committee, deputies from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) criticized the bill, which would pave the way for the restriction of academic freedom. CHP deputy Utku Çakırözer said with the amendment, a new period of massive purges will be ushered in for academics, adding, “Independence is completely finished for academics, who are left at the mercy of YÖK and the appointed presidents of universities.”

With a cabinet decree issued in July 2018 during a state of emergency declared after a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, the Turkish president was authorized to directly appoint the rectors of universities instead of selecting them from among nominees based on elections by academics of the relevant universities.

Reminding that the Constitutional Court had previously cancelled the “dismissal from a university due to support for terrorism” clause in the previous version of the law with an emphasis on “academic independence,” Çakırözer said: “Despite this ruling of the Constitutional Court, the scope of dismissal from public service is expanded by adding ‘terrorist propaganda’ to the grounds for dismissal from public service. The ‘terrorist propaganda’ concept is the most commonly used element in the prosecution of freedom of speech in the Turkish judicial system. That is because the scope of the concept of propaganda and its assessment are very broad.”

The international community has been leveling harsh criticism at the Turkish government, claiming that it misuses its notorious counterterrorism laws to crack down on dissidents. The Council of Europe, the commissioner for human rights, the European Court of Human Rights, the EU and various UN bodies and NGOs have time and again warned Turkey on this score and called on Turkey to bring its counterterrorism-related legislation into line with international human rights standards, a call that has thus far been left unanswered by Turkey.

Based on these laws the Turkish government had previously launched an investigation into academics who signed and published a petition titled “We won’t be part of this crime” in reaction to months of fighting between Turkish security forces and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) after a two-and-a-half-year ceasefire broke down in 2015, calling on the Turkish government to halt military operations in the predominantly Kurdish south-eastern region of the country.

Some 1,200 Turkish academics as well as a number of luminaries and intellectuals, including Noam Chomsky, who called themselves “Academics for Peace” and signed the petition dated January 2016, have been dismissed from their positions, sentenced to prison or faced an overseas travel ban on accusations ranging from terrorist propaganda and inciting people to hatred, violence and breaking the law to insulting Turkish institutions and the Turkish Republic.

In a landmark judgment on July 26, 2019, the Constitutional Court, which reviewed the individual applications of 10 academics who signed the peace declaration, ruled that the sentencing of the academics amounted to a violation of their rights.

After the coup attempt, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency that lasted for two years. With lists containing the names of individuals appended to emergency decree-laws enacted during the state of emergency, the government dismissed some 130,000 civil servants including nearly 6,000 academics from universities on accusations of links to terrorist organizations. Many of them were eventually put behind bars on the same grounds.

Take a second to support SCF on Patreon!