Academic freedom in Turkey: EUA calls for the liberation of former Rector Murat Tuncer

26 November 2019

EUA is gravely concerned by reports of academics still being held in prison for having signed the Academics for Peace petition “We Will not be a Party to this Crime”, which addressed the situation in south eastern Turkey.

On 26 July 2019, the General Assembly of the Turkish Constitutional Court ruled that the conviction of the Academics for Peace petition signatories violates their freedom of expression. According to reports, the decision has been passed on to all courts dealing with cases related to Academics for Peace. However, the impact on Turkish academics who stand for trial or have already been sentenced is yet to be fully realised.

EUA welcomes the release last July of Professor Füsun Üstel, whose liberation EUA called for last March. The Association has followed these developments and continues to monitor their impact on Turkish universities and their communities. On several occasions, EUA has spoken out against measures taken by the Turkish government following the attempted coup in July 2016; namely the forced resignation, suspension and arrest of thousands of public servants, including academics and higher education administrators.

EUA is especially concerned about the case of Prof Dr. Murat Tuncer, former Rector of Hacettepe University in Ankara and renowned specialist in pediatric hematology. According to a report by the Scholars at Risk network, Tuncer was dismissed from his position at the University in Ankara without proper investigation and without opportunity to defend his case. The indictment released at the beginning of March 2019 contains no concrete evidence to support allegations claiming Prof Dr. Tuncer’s membership of the banned FETO organisation. Tuncer is due to stand for his next trial hearing on 4 December. If found guilty, he may face a prison sentence of 7 to 15 years.

EUA expresses its steadfast support for the Turkish higher education community and calls for the immediate exoneration of the sentenced academics and the suspension of any ongoing trials. Turkey is a signatory to the 2018 Paris Bologna Communiqué, in which it committed to promoting and protecting academic freedom and institutional autonomy, and also the social responsibility and civic engagement of higher education institutions and their members. The Association, therefore, calls on the Turkish government to honour this commitment.

The Association will continue to monitor the evolution of the situation and its impact on the university sector.

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