“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 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”.