Turkish academics detained for signing declaration
Jan. 15, 2016
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Police in Turkey detained academics Friday labelled "dark people" by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for signing a declaration denouncing military operations against Kurdish rebels, heightening concerns about freedom of expression in the country.
The state-run Anadolu Agency said 19 academics among more than 1,000 scholars who had signed the declaration were detained Friday, 15 of whom were released after questioning. It said prosecutors have launched investigations into the academics on possible charges of insulting the state and engaging in "terrorist propaganda" on behalf of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.
The move, which was criticized by rights groups and U.S. officials, came after Erdogan decried the signatories and called on the judiciary to act against the "treachery."
Erdogan said the declaration by the academics, including linguist Noam Chomsky, was biased against the state, used the same language as "terrorists" and did not speak out against the rebel group's violence. On Thursday, Kurdish rebels detonated a car bomb at a police station in southeastern Turkey, then attacked it with rocket launchers and firearms. Six people were killed, including three children, authorities said.
Erdogan renewed his attacks against the scholars Friday after he prayed at Istanbul's Blue Mosque and walked to the nearby site of Tuesday's suicide bomb attack that was blamed on the Islamic State group and killed 10 German tourists.
"Just because they have titles such as professor, doctor in front of their names does not make them enlightened. These are dark people," Erdogan said. "They are villains and vile because those who side with the villains are villains themselves."
In the declaration, more than 1,000 academics from Turkey and abroad said they refused to be "a party to the crime" and called on the government to halt what they said was a "massacre."
The declaration was referring to military operations against Kurdish militants in neighborhoods and towns in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast where the government has imposed extended curfews. The militants, who are linked to the PKK, have mounted barricades, dug trenches and set up explosives to keep authorities away. The operations have resulted in more than 100 civilian casualties and displaced thousands, human rights groups say.
The academics also called for the resumption of peace efforts with the rebels.
Anadolu said 15 academics from Kocaeli University in northwestern Turkey, three from Uludag University in the neighboring province of Bursa, and one from Bulent Ecevit University in the Black Sea coastal city of Zonguldak were detained for questioning on Friday. The Kocaeli academics were later released.
Police were acting in line with probes launched by local prosecutors in those regions. Several other universities instigated probes into faculty members who also signed the declaration, according to Anadolu, in moves that could lead to dismissals. The Dogan news agency reported Thursday that Duzce University in northwestern Turkey fired a sociology lecturer for signing the declaration.
Rights group PEN International called for the immediate release of the academics, saying their detention is yet another example of the growing intolerance toward critical voices in Turkey.
"PEN calls on Turkey to cease immediately its crackdown on dissident voices and act in accordance with its obligations to respect the right to freedom of expression," it said in a statement.
The United States expressed concern over the proceedings against the scholars, saying all citizens should be free to express controversial or unpopular views.
"Criticism of government does not equal treason," U.S. Ambassador John Bass said through the embassy's Twitter account. "Turkish democracy is strong enough and resilient enough to embrace free expression of uncomfortable ideas."
The mayor for Ankara, known for making blunt statements, responded to Bass on Twitter, calling him the "wrong choice" as ambassador to Turkey.
"Return to your country," Melih Gokcek tweeted. "You should be replaced by a new ambassador."
The PKK, considered a terrorist organization by Turkey and its western allies, has waged a more than 30-year separatist battle in southeastern Turkey. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people.
This story has been corrected to show that that Erdogan is Turkey's president, not prime minister.