Take Action: Letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan regarding academic freedom in Turkey

Last week, many APSA members wrote to us and brought attention to current developments in Turkey, where scholars – including scholars of politics – signing a petition calling on the Turkish government to end military practices in the southeastern provinces have faced detentions, criminal investigations, investigations from their universities, and threats from private citizens. With the advice and support of the APSA Committee on Professional Ethics, Rights, and Freedoms, we have written a letter expressing our deepest concern to the Turkish authorities, urging them to take all steps to fulfill its duties to protect free expression and academic freedom.

The letter is available on APSAnet.org and below, where we have also included more information and links to resources. We invite you to show your support for colleagues in Turkey by learning more, sharing news or reports of incidents, or hosting a scholar who is at risk. You can also find an open letter of support for the signatory scholars in Turkey here.

Thank you to the many members who have written to us, signed petitions, and otherwise acted to bring attention to this troubling issue.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Hochschild, President
David A. Lake, President‐Elect
Rodney Hero, Immediate Past President
Steven Rathgeb Smith, Executive Director

Letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan regarding academic freedom in Turkey

January 18, 2016

H.E. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
President of the Republic of Turkey
T.C. Cumhurbaşkanlığı Genel Sekreterliği
06689 Çankaya, Ankara
Turkey
Via Email: cumhurbaskanligi@tccb.gov.tr

President Erdoğan:

On behalf of the American Political Science Association, we write to express our alarm and deepest concern regarding reports of punitive measures, including detentions and criminal investigations, launched against Turkish academics who signed a petition addressing Turkish government policies in southeastern Turkey.  We urge you to end these measures against the petition’s signatories, to ensure the safety and well-being of scholars in Turkey, and to ensure academic freedom remains a component of Turkey’s commitment to higher education.

The American Political Science Association is a scholarly association that represents more than 13,000 U.S. and internationally based professors and students of political science. Our membership includes scholars within Turkey and scholars of Turkish politics.

We understand from media reports that Turkish government officials and the Council of Higher Education (YÖK) denounced the peace petition and its over 1000 signatories, including scholars of politics and political science. We further understand that Turkish officials have associated the petition with support for terrorism, and 27 signatories were detained by Turkish police on Friday morning and held for the day. Reports also indicate that criminal investigations of signatories are ongoing, in connection to provisions in the Turkish Penal Code on insulting the Turkish nation, Turkish Republic, and Turkish institutions, “inciting hatred and enmity,” and “terrorist propaganda.” We also understand that following YÖK’s January 12 statement on the petition, multiple universities launched investigations against signatories and several scholars have met with punitive actions within the academy.

Without any further (or contradictory) information, these measures appear to be punishment for protected expression, including expression related to signatories’ professional competence as scholars. Dismissals, detentions, and criminal investigations for such comments therefore suggests retaliation against scholars for nonviolent exercise of academic freedom and free expression, both recognized under international standards including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, both of which Turkey has ratified, similarly require the government to uphold citizens’ freedom of expression, as does Turkey’s own Constitution.

We respectfully urge the Government of Turkey to take all steps to fulfill its duties to protect free expression and academic freedom by ending all measures to penalize signatories of the petition. We also urge the Government to ensure signatories are protected against public threats of bodily harm that have been made against them.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Hochschild
President

David A. Lake
President-Elect

Rodney Hero
Immediate Past President

Steven Rathgeb Smith
Executive Director

Cc: Bekir Bozdağ
Minister of Justice
06669 Kizilay
Ankara, Turkey
Fax: +90 312 419 3370

The Honorable John F. Kerry United States Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State 2201
C Street NW Washington, DC 20520

Ambassador Serdar Kılıç
Turkish Ambassador to the United States
2525 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20008
Fax: 202-612-6744
Email: embassy.washingtondc@mfa.gov.tr

Ambassador John Bass
American Embassy Ankara
110 Atatürk Blvd.
Kavaklıdere, 06100 Ankara – Turkey
Fax: (90-312) 467-0019
Email: webmasterankara@state.gov

Ms. Victoria Nuland
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs U.S. Department of State
Fax: 202-736-4462

The Honorable Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Further resources

Information on the Petition

Joint public letter in support of Turkish higher education (PDF – 252KB)

English language text of original petition signed by Turkish scholars and scholars of Turkey is available.

The New York Times covered the developments over the weekend.

An open letter of support for Academics under attack in Turkey is available here.

APSA Ethics Guide and Committee
The APSA Guide to Professional Ethics in Political Science outlines the process by which issues of human rights of scholars outside the United States.

The APSA Committee on Professional Ethics, Rights, and Freedoms can be found here.

International Political Science Association
The International Political Science Association, of which APSA is a founding member, released a statement on freedom of speech and academic freedom and asked it to be shared widely with our members.

Scholars at Risk
Scholars at Risk, of which APSA is also a member, has resources for those scholars who would like to become more engaged. Scholars at Risk invites individuals to alert them to any additional, related incidents in Turkey that might qualify for publication on their monitoring website. Members can also learn about how to host a scholar at risk – from Turkey or elsewhere – through their university partnerships and hosting information page.

5 Comments

  1. I would sign the open letter if I could find a link or other means to to let me do so. Maybe I am being dense but I do not see how to sign.

    • Hi Dan,

      I’ve been having the same problem as Bruce since Monday. The google doc comes through as read-only. I contacted the administrator but haven’t heard back.

      If anyone else has any ideas, please let me know! Thank you.

      • I’ll share a bit of insight here. There was a lot of discussion around the petition. There was the technology discussion. There are a lot of different ways to do petitions and their like on web now. Forms, advocacy platforms, change.org, leave a comment on the site, etc. Pretty quickly though we started to think about other concerns around the petition, including the safety of those brave enough to sign. In the end we decided to link to what we saw as the original “petition” to leverage having all the signatures in one place for more impact instead of spread out. APSA doesn’t have any control (we’re not able to manage, etc.) that petition. It looks like the way they are doing it is you have to send them an email and then they add you. There may be safety concerns for doing it this way. i haven’t spoken to them so I don’t know. The email address they ask you to use to be added is academicsUS@gmail.com

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