Turkish academics who signed an anti-war petition could face up to seven-and-a-half years in prison after new charges were filed against them.
Almost two years after 1,128 people signed what has become known as the "Academics for Peace" petition in January 2016, which condemned military action in south-east Turkey, several of its signatories have been told they will face charges of “propagandising for a terrorist organisation”.
It is not known exactly how many of the signatories face action as the lawsuits have been filed separately by the Istanbul Public Chief Prosecutor’s Office, according to Umut Özkirımli, a professor of political science at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University, in Sweden.
This is likely to be a deliberate tactic to avoid scrutiny of the decision, he said.
However, the charges made against them using the Turkish Anti-Terror Act state that “any person making propaganda for a terrorist organisation shall be punished with imprisonment from one to five years”.
“If this crime is committed through means of mass media, the penalty shall be aggravated by one half,” it adds.
The prosecutions are the latest in a purge of Turkey’s public sector, which has seen more than 146,000 state employees sacked, including 8,700 academics, on allegations of links to the Gulenist group blamed for the failed coup of July 2016.
However, several signatories of the Academics for Peace petition, which condemned the Turkish government’s security operations against the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) youth movement in cities of south-east Turkey because of the disastrous impact on the Kurdish civilian population, were jailed prior to the coup.
Three academics were jailed in March 2016 on terrorism changes, while at least another 30 were sacked by their universities and 27 suspended, according to the charity Human Rights Watch.
However, the filing of further charges almost two years after the petition’s publication showed there is no cessation of the persecution of academics, said Professor Özkirımli.
“Under the circumstances, it is not surprising that most of those who managed to keep their jobs (and their passports) are cowed into silence, if not submission,” he said.
According to the Turkey Purge website, which details post-coup arrests, some 759 people were detained over alleged Gulenist links in the seven days up to 30 October, quoting the latest released interior ministry figures.