Two Academics for Peace in jail: freedom of expression is ever more trampled upon in Turkey 

“Turkey is incarcerating its academics!” This is what Tuna Altinel (Claude Bernard University of Lyon 1, France) wrote to the European solidarity networks last Wednesday (8th of May 2019), as Füsun Üstel stepped into the women’s prison in Eskişehir. A retired political science professor from Galatasaray University, Füsun Üstel is one of the 2237 signatories of the peace petition published in January 2016, that denounced the Turkish state’s violation of civilians’ basic rights in the Kurdish cities of Turkey. Since then, more than a third of the Academics for Peace have been prosecuted, on the grounds of “terrorist propaganda”. The outcome of the trials has invariably been a jail sentence. However, until recently, the indicted academics were sentenced to a maximum of two years in prison with a suspension provision, provided they refrained from committing further “crimes” over the following five years.

Füsun Ustel

Füsun Üstel refused this provision because she did not want to be condemned to silence. That is the reason why she is now behind bars. Other academics are likely to face a similar treatment soon: 33 of them followed her example and are awaiting their judgment on appeal. But there is more: in December 2018, Gencay Gürsoy was sentenced to 27-month imprisonment. Gürsoy is the former president of the Turkish Medical Association and a well-known activist of the fight for human rights in Turkey. As such, he was not judged for terrorist propaganda but for “insulting the Turkish people, the Republic of Turkey, the state institutions and the government”. Since then, several dozen academics have like him been sentenced to more than 24 months in jail, which means that the suspension provision is no longer an option. Furthermore, eleven members of the steering committee of the Union of Turkish Physicians have just been sentenced to 20 month-imprisonment for declaring, when Afrin was invaded in January 2018, that “war is a public health issue”.

The last episode in the relentless expansion of arbitrary practices and crushing repression took place this Saturday, 11th of May, when Tuna Altinel, a mathematician who has been an associate professor at the Claude BernardUniversity of Lyon 1 and a French resident since 1996, was put in jail.  Tuna is Turkish and has a Turkish passport which was confiscated at Istanbul airport last month, when he travelled to Turkey to visit his family over the Easter break. During his trial as an academic for peace, Tuna had refused to disavow the peace petition. Indeed, when asked whether he agreed with its content, he had responded that he had arrived at the same assessments as those contained in the declaration during his stays in the region, and that he actually had had a lived experience in Nusaybin and Cizre of what the declaration describes as if he was the author.

The official grounds provided for his incarceration today are that he took part in an event organised in Lyon on the 21stof February 2019 by an association of solidarity with Kurdish people, which an MP in exile, from opposition party HDP and from the city of Cizre, was also attending. During that event, a documentary was shown with scenes of the massacres committed by the Turkish security forces in Cizre after the electoral defeat of the ruling party AKP on the 7th of June 2015, i.e. the very massacres that motivated the peace petition.

Of course, academics are not the only ones under attack in Turkey: journalists, lawyers, civil servants are also targeted. But, through Füsun Üstel’s and Tuna Altinel’s incarceration, the Turkish state is punishing the refusal to bend to its arbitrary pronouncements and to submit to its parody of justice. We declare our solidarity with Füsun Üstel and Tuna Altinel, and with all the signatories of the peace petition who currently live under threat, and we call on all Universities in the UK and the EU and their federations, as well as on the EU institutions, to intervene and demand the immediate release of our incarcerated colleagues, as well as the end of state repression in Turkey.

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