Headscarf backers go to court

December 4, 1998

Turkish academics are pushing to overturn a rule introduced last month banning them from universities if they "attack" the state.

An assistant at Sanurfa University in southern Turkey has already been banned for life for wearing a headscarf on religious grounds and a number of other cases are pending against academics elsewhere.

A legal case against the ruling universities authority, YOK, is expected to be brought to Turkey's highest administrative court, the Danistay, in the next week.

Academic freedom will be at the centre of the legal challenge against YOK on the grounds it breaks the country's constitution, which guarantees "the freedom of academic research".

The regulations are part of the clampdown on religious activities in universities in Turkey's strictly secular society. It includes the strict enforcement of a ban on all religious clothing in universities.

YOK head Kemal Guruz said the rules were not new, "just a few minor alterations to existing regulations introduced in 1982". He said the campaign had "nothing to do with academic freedom, but is aimed at super-imposing the rule of religion on to the state".

The regulations have provoked an angry response from many academics. Law professor Istar Gozaydin said: "It's an attack on freedom of expression - there will be no room for dissent. Criticism is an essential part of academic freedom; dissent is the essence of constructing something new."

The growing controversy over the headscarf ban has also become a bargaining chip in inter-party talks over the formation of a new government.

The Islamic Virtue Party, the largest group in parliament, has reportedly demanded the removal of the ban as the price for its support in any new coaliton government.

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