Statement on the Imprisonment and Judicial Harassment of Academics in Turkey

The International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs notes with great concern the ongoing judicial harassment of signatories of the Academics for Peace petition in Turkey. We are particularly alarmed at the imprisonment of Prof. Dr. Füsun Üstel and Dr. Tuna Altınel who have been deprived of their right to liberty since May 2019, and we call for an end to all such procedures.

In January 2016 more than two thousand Turkish academics, known as “Academics for Peace,” signed a petition entitled “We will not be a party to this crime” which asked the state to resume its diplomatic negotiations with the Kurdish movement to bring an end to the military conflict. During the time of intensified military activity in Turkey’s Kurdish-populated towns, the petitioners cited violations of international law and invoked basic democratic principles as they objected to the continuation of violence against the Kurdish people and called for an end to the round-the-clock curfews that deprived the population of necessary provisions.

Since December 2017, more than seven hundred signatories have faced charges of “terrorist propaganda” in criminal courts. The courts have been arbitrarily handing down prison sentences ranging from 15 months to 36 months for an act that can only be considered a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression.  Those who receive sentences for less than 24 months are given the option to request a suspended sentence, which in practice amounts to a five-year gag order and compliance in the form of self-censorship. Of the nearly two hundred academics given prison sentences, a total of 29 have received sentences for more than 24 months and were therefore automatically denied the option to request a suspended sentence. In addition, six academics refused the “opportunity” to have their prison sentence suspended, and Dr. Füsun Üstel was the first to do so in defiance of the sheer lawlessness of these prosecutions. She has been in prison since May 8, 2019. Further, Dr. Tuna Altınel, whose trial for signing the petition is currently underway, was arrested on May 11, 2019 on a second charge of “terrorist propaganda” for taking part in a documentary screening in France. At the moment, a further 34 Academics for Peace are at imminent risk of imprisonment, including members of our Consortium.

In addition to having their political views criminalized under counter-terrorism laws, signatories of the petition have been subjected to various forms of civil death. Nearly five hundred academics have been summarily dismissed from their university positions. Many have been blacklisted in the labor market and some are subject to travel bans or have had their passports revoked, preventing them from either working in Turkey or abroad. Yet others find themselves in forced exile.

The International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs strongly condemns the criminalization of public speech that takes issue with state policy and opposes the attack on universities that seeks to impose political censorship and the suppression of free and open inquiry. As critical theorists we defend the view that there can be no democracy without a culture of open debate that includes dissenting views, political critique, and the protection of the rights of dissidents. We stand in solidarity with the signatories of the Academics for Peace petition and call for a cessation of all legal proceedings against them.

-International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs
July 1, 2019