Turkish court hands down suspended 15-month sentences to 3 academics over peace petition

An İstanbul court on Monday handed down suspended sentences of one year, three months to three Turkish academics on terrorism charges resulting from signing a 2016 peace petition calling for an end to state violence against Turkey’s Kurds.

Associate Prof. Dr. Erhan Keleşoğlu, dismissed from İstanbul University, Research Fellow İrfan Emre Kovankaya, dismissed from Yıldız Technical University, and Assistant Prof. Dr. Sharo İbrahim Garip from Van Yüzüncü Yıl University were charged with “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization” in signing the peace petition titled “We will not be a party to this crime!”

The petition was published in January 2016 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. The government put large parts of the Southeast under curfew, and some largely Kurdish areas were bombarded with heavy weapons.

Calling themselves “Academics for Peace,” the 1,128 signatories included Turkish scholars and prominent foreign academics such as American linguist Noam Chomsky. They said Turkish government was condemning residents of towns in the southeast to hunger through the use of curfews and also called for a solution to the conflict, including talks with the Kurdish political movement.

The government said its measures were necessary to root out Kurdish militants who had dug trenches and laid explosives. The United Nations has estimated the security operations left 2,000 people dead and up to half a million displaced.

Kovankaya, Keleşoğlu and Garip appeared before the İstanbul 32nd High Criminal Court on Monday for their third hearing. Giving his opinion as to the accusations leveled in the previous hearing, prosecutor Caner Babaloğlu demanded that the academics be punished according to the Anti-Terror Law’s Article 7/2. Proving the academics guilty as charged, the court issued 15 month suspended sentences to the academics.

The hearings against the academics started on December 5, 2017. As of April 9, 185 people had their first hearing, 33 had their second and one academic had a third hearing. Ten academics received suspended sentences of one year, three months in prison. All sentences except for that of Prof. Dr. Zübeyde Füsun Üstel from Galatasaray University have been suspended.

The peace declaration frustrated Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, leading to retribution against the academics. Some of the insults Erdoğan used included “so-called intellectuals,” “a flock called intellectuals,” “traitors” and “rough copies of intellectuals.”

Hundreds of academics who signed the declaration were detained when police raided their homes and offices across Turkey after the declaration was announced on Jan. 11, 2016, while scores were removed from their jobs.

Since a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016, a total of 5,717 academics at 117 universities have been dismissed from their jobs due to government decrees issued under the ongoing state of emergency. However, according to a BBC Turkish report in July, 23,427 academics have been negatively affected by the state of emergency that was declared following the failed coup attempt in 2016.

The report said at least 23,427 academics either lost their jobs at universities when their contracts were terminated, or were dismissed from their positions, or were left unemployed when the universities where they worked were closed down by the government after Sept. 1, 2016.

Critics say the collective dismissal of academics and collective verdicts without specifying individual crimes violates the principle of “the individuality of crime and punishment in law.”

Emergency rule was declared for three months on July 21, 2016 and became effective with a government decree issued on July 23, 2016. With the first decree, No. 667, 15 private and foundation universities were closed down on the grounds that they were linked to the Gülen movement.

There is no information about the number of administrative staff members working at these universities who were affected, but 2,808 academics were left unemployed and 65,000 students had to seek new universities according to figures from the Higher Education Board (YÖK).

Another state decree in September targeted 15,000 research assistants for their alleged links to the Gülen movement. They were part of an Assistant Professor Training Program (ÖYP) that was launched in 2010 to meet the need for academics in Turkey.

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