The Turkish government is persecuting academics, using the court system as a political weapon, according to a report issued today by the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies (IHRN) based in Washington, D.C.
The report details an investigation into the cases of eight Turkish scientists, doctors, and engineers who have been accused by their government of terrorism and treason. “[T]he evidence does not support the conclusion that any of our eight colleagues is guilty of committing the crimes of which they have been accused,” the report concludes. IHRN is calling on the government to drop all charges against them.
The investigation started long before the national protests that have been disrupting Turkish academia. “I got an e-mail from Carol Corillon in December asking if I would look into what was going on in Turkey,” says Peter Diamond, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Corillon, the IHRN executive director, had been tracking the cases of eight Turkish academics, who face up to life in prison for charges ranging from supporting terrorism to “making communist and separatist propaganda.” Diamond agreed and just 2 months later found himself in Turkey with Corillon and Hans-Peter Zenner, a surgeon at the University of Tübingen in Germany. They visited four of the academics in prison.
Diamond was relieved by what he saw. “They are being treated well in prison,” he says. But after discussion with the academics and their families, the “depressing” reality set in. “These were highly active, successful people with careers like mine,” Diamond says. “And suddenly, it’s gone.”
The cases against the eight academics are part of a series of high-profile political trials launched by the government since 2007. Those trials involve thousands of prosecutions, with the official aim of dismantling the Turkish military’s political influence. Critics claim that the government has used the trials to bully critics, including academics with political views different from those of the religiously conservative AK Party, which came to power in 2002.
After combing through the evidence against the academics, interviewing their families, Turkish journalists, and government officials, the IHRN team concluded that they are all unjustly accused and should be released immediately. Some of the academics are in bad shape, Diamond says. Kemal Gürüz, a chemical engineer, attempted suicide on 14 June. “My hope is that this report will help in some small way,” Diamond says.
Turkish scientists following the cases say that IHRN’s findings could influence the outcomes. “These kinds of reports make the situation more visible,” says Emrah Altindis, a molecular biologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston and an author of a recent letter to Science about the government’s harsh treatment of medics. “It gives encouragement to people who are actually fighting for basic rights.”
Turkish government officials could not be reached for comment.