Justice remains elusive for Turkey’s peace academics 8 years on

Turkey’s Academics for Peace, a group of scholars who were fired for signing a peace petition in 2016, are still struggling to return to their jobs, Deutsche Welle Turkish service reported on Wednesday.

Some universities have refused to implement administrative court orders for the academics’ reinstatement, and appeals courts have overturned reinstatement rulings issued by lower courts, according to the report.

Some of the academics have also been forced to resign or leave their jobs due to the non-renewal of their contracts.

A total of 406 academics were fired, out of the 2,212 who signed the peace petition calling on the government to halt military operations in southeastern Turkey and opt for a negotiated settlement of the Kurdish issue.

The Kurdish issue, a term prevalent in Turkey’s public discourse, refers to the demand for equal rights by the country’s Kurdish population and their struggle for recognition.

The academics were fired in the aftermath of a failed military coup in July 2016 by the government’s executive decree-laws, which were often criticized for their disregard of due process.

Of those who were fired, 167 academics initially won their administrative lawsuits for reinstatement.

Regional appeals courts in Ankara, however, overturned 39 of the decisions, lowering the number of reinstatements to 128.

“They have been doomed to civil death and uncertainty,” said opposition MP and rights advocate Sezgin Tanrıkulu, adding that the peace academics have been forgotten in the political debate.

The term “civil death” has been repeatedly used to describe the situation of those summarily fired from the public sector after the failed coup, as the decree-laws, in addition to offering no effective legal remedy, have had a number of secondary implications such as blacklisting on the social security database and travel bans preventing them from seeking employment abroad.

“Courts don’t comply with Constitutional Court orders, universities don’t comply with court orders, those who are reinstated cannot actually restart work, and those who can are quickly fired again,” said Mühdan Sağlam, one of the academics whose reinstatement was recently overturned by an appeals court.

The appeals court accused Sağlam of being disloyal to the constitution by signing the petition which it said “encouraged terrorist groups and jeopardized national security,” presumably referring to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

An armed separatist group waging war against the Turkish state since the 1980s, the PKK is designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.

Turkey’s anti-terror laws are frequently criticized by rights groups and international organizations for being overly broad and ambiguous, allowing too much room for interpretation.

Turkey’s post-coup purges also included the mass removal of more than 4,000 judges and prosecutors immediately after the failed coup which, according to many international observers, had a chilling effect on the legal professionals who continued to work in the judiciary.

The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has also been accused of replacing the purged judicial members with young and inexperienced judges and prosecutors who have close links to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

In a development that confirmed the erosion of the Turkish judiciary, Turkey was ranked 117th among 142 countries in the 2023 Rule of Law Index published by the World Justice Project (WJP) in late October, dropping one place in comparison to the previous year.

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