Turkey’s top court finds academic’s right to freedom of expression was violated

The Constitutional Court of Turkey

Turkey’s Constitutional Court has found rights violations in the case of Mahiye Sevin Bayraktar, a lecturer at Ankara University who faced disciplinary action for distributing leaflets and hanging posters, the Artı Gerçek news website reported on Monday.

Bayraktar, a member of the EĞİTİM-SEN labor union, appealed to the Constitutional Court in 2020, claiming her freedom of expression was violated. She argued that her actions were part of her union activities.

However, the court did not consider the incident to be related to union rights since it did not pertain directly to work life or core union activities.

Instead, the court reviewed the case under the scope of freedom of expression and concluded that Bayraktar should be awarded TL 20,000 ($611) in non-pecuniary damages, along with TL 446.90 ($13.60) for court fees and TL 18,000 ($550)  for legal expenses.

Academic freedom in Turkey has sharply declined in the past 15 years, putting the country in 164th place among 179 countries as of December 2023.

This downward trajectory in Turkey’s academic freedom is primarily linked to events following a 2016 coup attempt. In the wake of the abortive putsch, the Turkish government carried out a sweeping crackdown on academia, resulting in the dismissal of over 30,000 teachers and 7,000 academics, with many facing serious consequences such as legal action, loss of employment or imprisonment for criticizing government policies.

A significant factor in this decline was President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s 2016 decision to abolish intra-university elections for the selection of university rectors, a move that replaced a traditionally democratic process with direct presidential appointments. The policy has faced widespread criticism for undermining the independence of institutions of higher learning and centralizing control in the hands of the government.

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