All 77 of Turkey's rectors risk jail

March 10, 2006

All of Turkey's 77 university rectors are under investigation by the prosecutor's office after they criticised the arrest and prosecution of a colleague. The state's chief prosecutor confirmed he was investigating whether the rectors were seeking to influence the judiciary. The offence carries a penalty of up to four years in jail.

Yücel Askin, rector of Yüzüncü Yil University, is also being prosecuted for fraud amid accusations that the charges are politically motivated because of his stand against radical Islamists organising in his university. He suffered a heart attack while in jail, and a co-defendant committed suicide.

Erdogan Teziç, head of Turkey's Higher Education Authority (Yok), said:

"We have a serious concern about the judiciary becoming politicised." He, too, is under investigation, in a move launched just after Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan criticised the rectors' position.

It is the latest chapter in an escalating conflict between the Islamic-oriented Government and university rectors. Since Prime Minister Erdoyg an's Government came to power, relations between it and Yok have been increasingly strained.

Yok enjoys a large amount of autonomy and sees itself as a guardian of Turkey's secular state. It has angered elements within the Government by continuing to enforce a ban on religious headscarves on campuses.

There is also anxiety over deteriorating academic freedom triggered by the trial of academics Baskin Oran and Ibrahim Kaboglu over a report compiled for the Government that questions the state's definition of minorities. The two are accused of "insulting Turkishness" and "inciting racial hatred". If convicted they face up to eight years in jail.

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