University suspends academic for exam question on presidential system in Turkey and its impact on the judiciary

A law professor at a university in the central Turkish province of Eskişehir was suspended for three months for asking a question in an exam about the current presidential system in Turkey and its impact on the country’s judiciary, Turkish media reported.

Professor Bülent Yücel, in a January 9 examination on constitutional law, asked a question concerning the power of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over state institutions and its impact on the judiciary, with specific reference to a current case seeking to close down the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP).

The university rector suspended Yücel without giving any reason and postponed the exam to a later date. His students marched to the rector’s office in support of Yücel and demanded that the decision to suspend Yücel be rescinded.

Turkey’s presidential system has concentrated power in the person of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, weakening the country’s institutions, especially the parliament, according to a report released by the Checks and Balances Network (Denge ve Denetleme Ağı, DDA).

Through a referendum in April 2017, Turkey switched from a parliamentary system of governance to an executive presidential system, which granted Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) sweeping powers, criticized for removing constitutional checks and balances and thus leading to a further weakening of Turkish democracy.

The Supreme Court of Appeals launched an investigation into the HDP on March 2, 2021, and the court’s chief prosecutor, Bekir Şahin, applied to the Constitutional Court on March 17, 2021 demanding the closure of the HDP over its alleged ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The PKK is listed as a terrorist group by Turkey and much of the international community. The HDP denies formal links to the PKK and accuses the government of targeting the party because of its strong opposition to Erdoğan.

Although academic freedom is guaranteed in Turkey’s constitution, academics frequently face legal action or harassment due to their work or for simply expressing their views about problems in the country.

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