Letter to Mersin University, Turkey, about failure to renew contracts of faculty who sign peace initiative
CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM
Mr. Ahmet Çamsarı, Rector of Mersin University (email@example.com)
Cc: The Council of Higher Education (firstname.lastname@example.org), Hakan Arslan (email@example.com), Ali Kaya (firstname.lastname@example.org), İsmail Yağcı (email@example.com), firstname.lastname@example.org
We write to express our deep concern regarding Mersin University’s failure to renew the expiring contracts of faculty signatories of the peace petition by the Academics for Peace Initiative (Barış için Akademisyenler). These non-renewals amount to a purge of faculty on the basis of their political opinions in violation of academic freedom.
Last January, Mersin University initiated administrative investigations against these 21 academics (Assoc. Prof. Metin Altıok, Prof. Ayşe Gül Yılgör, Prof. Mustafa Kalay, Prof. Çetin Veysal, Prof. Atilla Güney, Assoc. Prof. Ulaş Bayraktar, Assoc. Prof. Ayşe Devrim Başterzi, Asst. Prof. Ali Ekber Doğan, Asst. Prof. Mustafa Şener, Asst. Prof. Yasemin Karaca, Research Asst. Esin Gülsen, Asst. Prof. Bediz Yılmaz Bayraktar, Asst. Prof. Melahat Kutun, Asst. Prof. Selim Çakmaklı, Asst. Prof. Hakan Mertcan, Asst. Prof. Veli Mert, Expert/Lecturer Bermal Aydın, Asst. Prof. Tolga Tören, Expert/Lecturer & PhD Candidate Galip Deniz Altınay, Asst. Prof. Hakan Altun and Asst. Prof. Eylem Çamuroğlu Çığ). Since then, Mersin University has failed to renew the contracts of five assistant professors, two lecturers and one research assistant (8 academics in total). This number puts Mersin University at the top of the list of Turkish universities that have acted punitively, targeting petition signatories with dismissal in violation of academic freedom and without regard to basic procedural protections.
We also note with concern that Turkish authorities have acted in concert with universities, including Mersin University, in the targeting and persecution of petition signatories and academics critical of the government. Some of the scholars dismissed from Mersin University also face threat of criminal investigation, prosecution and even prison sentences for exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression.
In one case, assistant professors Hakan Mertcan, Mustafa Şener and Selim Çakmaklı face prosecution on charges of “insulting the President” due to their Facebook messages. Also on the basis of their social media messages in support of the rights of Kurdish citizens, academics at Mersin University have faced prosecution for engaging in “propaganda of terrorist organization” as well as “provocation of the people for hatred and hostility”. One such case was launched against research assistant Esin Gülsen who was due to appear for a hearing on July 12th, but whose case has been postponed to September 2016. In addition to these two cases, the Mersin public prosecutor’s office is conducting an investigation against Mertcan, Gülsen and Çakmaklı for “insulting the institutions and organs of the Turkish state” through their Facebook posts. The prosecutions already underway carry the risk of 14.5 year-long prison sentences should the accused academics be convicted. The third threatened prosecution (for “insulting the institutions and organs of the Turkish state”) would increase the potential sentence for the accused to 21.5 years. The prospect that academics could be sentenced to decades in prison for exercising their right to freedom of opinion and expression is unacceptable in any society that values critical inquiry, independent research and academic freedom.
We urge Mersin University’s rector and administration to immediately end any administrative or disciplinary investigations against these 21 academics in connection with their having signed a petition. We also call on Mersin University to renew the signatory faculty’s contracts, ensure their safety and protect their right to academic freedom. In addition, we ask that to the extent the rector has the authority to do so, all academic travel by the faculty and academic staff of Mersin University be approved and travel restrictions waived. We call upon you to uphold the due process of law and guarantee the fundamental rights and academic freedoms of the signatory faculty in your university.
We further call on all relevant Turkish authorities, including the Higher Education Council and the office of the President, to ensure that academics in Turkey enjoy a safe and supportive environment with full protection for their right to academic freedom. We note with alarm recent measures that have limited university autonomy and self-governance and echo the call for respect for academic freedom in Turkey that we co-signed together with 40-plus other scholarly associations (http://mesana.org/about/board-letters-statements.html#TurkishHigherEducation). Academic freedom includes the freedom of expression, opinion, association and travel and we ask Turkish authorities to lift all restrictions on academic travel for conferences, fellowships or scholarships abroad. We also ask that Turkish authorities drop all criminal charges, investigations and prosecutions against petition signatories and other academics on the basis of their social media postings and exercise of their right to freedom of expression.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your positive response.
Research Professor of History
University of California, Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, CA
Professor Emerita of Comparative Literature
University of California, Los Angeles
Los Angeles, CA
Professor, Department of Anthropology
Director, Center for Emerging Worlds
University of California, Santa Cruz
**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM (cs4af) is a group of scholars who defend academic freedom, the right of shared governance, and the First Amendment rights of faculty and students in the academy and beyond. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere. California Scholars for Academic Freedom investigates legislative and administrative infringements on freedom of speech and assembly, and it raises the consciousness of politicians, university regents and administrators, faculty, students and the public at large through open letters, press releases, petitions, statements, and articles.
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