Remains of PKK militant mailed to family in a box

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A new bill of Turkey’s Islamist and ultra nationalist government, which will pave the way for dismissals from universities with the accusation of ‘terrorist propaganda’ and as such hit academic autonomy and freedom was accepted by the Turkish parliament’s National Education, Youth and Sports Commission.

The bill extends the scope of disciplinary ‘grounds that require dismissal from public service,’ reported Birgün daily.

The bill, which amends the Higher Education Council (YÖK) Law and contains provisions facilitating the disciplinary action against academics was accepted by the commission.

With the proposal, disciplinary actions against academicians in the form of ‘warning’, ‘reprimand’, ‘salary cut’ and ‘dismissal from public service’ in the Law on Higher Education Council 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 propaganda of terrorist organisations, acting in unity with or helping these organisations, making use of or providing public means or resources to support these organisations.’

During the elaborations in the commission MPs from the main opposition the Republican People’s Party (CHP) criticised the bill which would pave the way for restriction of academic freedom. CHP Deputy Utku Çakırözer stating that, with the amendment, a new period of massive purge will be ushered in for academics, added, “Academic autonomy is completely over for academicians who are left at the mercy of YÖK and appointed presidents of the universities.”

With a cabinet decree issued in July 2018 during a state of emergency declared after a coup bid on 15th of July 2016 the Turkish president was authorised to directly appoint rectors of universities instead of selecting them from among nominees based on an election by academics of the relevant university.

Çakırözer reminding that the Constitutional Court has previously cancelled ‘dismissal from university due to support for terrorism’ clause in the previous version of the law with an emphasis of ‘academic autonomy’ said, “Despite this ruling of the Constitutional Court the scope of dismissal from public service is expanded by adding ‘terrorist propaganda’ to the grounds of dismissal from public service. ‘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 is very broad.”

International community has been levelling harsh critisism at the Turkish government claiming that it misuses its notorious counter-terrorism laws to crackdown on dissidents. The Council of Europe, the Commissioner for Human Rights, the European Court of Human Rights, UN bodies, EU and NGOs have time and again warned Turkey on this score and called Turkey to bring its counter-terrorism related legislation in line with international human rights standards, a call which has thus far been left unanswered by Turkey.

Based on these laws Turkish government has previously launched an investigation into academics who signed and published a petition entitled ‘We won’t be part of this crime’ in reaction to months of fighting between the Turkish government 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.

Around 1200 Turkish academics as well as luminaries and intellectuals, including Nobel laurate Noam Chomsky who called themselves ‘Academicians 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 judgement on July 26, 2019, the Constitutional Court, which reviewed individual applications of 10 academics who signed the peace declaration, ruled that the sentencing of the academics amounted to a violation of rights.

After the coup attempt, the Turkish government has declared a State of Emergency which lasted two years. With lists containing names of individuals appended to the 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 accusation of having links or connections to terrorist organisations. Many of them were eventually put behind bars on the same grounds. (turkishminute.com)

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