Member of the Academics for Peace, Prof. Zübeyde Füsun Üstel has been charged with “propagandizing for a terrorist organization” (Article No. 7/2 of Turkey’s Counterterrorism Law No. 3713) for signing the Academics for Peace statement “We will not be a party to this crime”. The statement criticized military actions in the Kurdish regions of Turkey and called for international observers to monitor the situation in place.
Prof Üstel makes a principled stand
Prof. Dr Zübeyde Füsun Üstel is an academic at Galatasaray University. Her articles have mostly focused on the history of Turkey, nationalism and issues of identity.
Initially sentenced last year the court gave her two options: either accept the ‘crime’ and have the sentence suspended or appeal and run the risk of going to jail if the appeal is rejected. Professor Üstel appealed. Not surprisingly, the appeal court upheld the sentence on March 3, 2019.
Criminalising the Kurds
This ruling constitutes a dangerous precedent. Prof. Dr Zübeyde Füsun Üstel and other academics who appeal are now faced with the danger of going to jail for signing a peace statement. Counterterrorism laws are being used as an implement of state repression.
This is indicative of the increasing authoritarianism of Erdogan’s regime with Osman Baydemir and Leyla Birlik both handed jail terms for attending rallies opposing the Turkish state’s military attacks on the Sur district of Diyarbakir last year.
In 2018 over 2,000 HDP activists and 71 elected mayors and co-mayors were arrested as the Turkish state took over Kurdish municipalities by force.
Abuse of counterterrorism laws
A lack of judicial independence in Turkish courts has allowed them to become a means for the government to silence political opponents.
Government critics and opponents are often subjected to bogus investigations and trials for terrorism. Widespread misuse of counterterrorism laws against government opponents and particularly the Kurds is an ongoing and deepening injustice.
Pre-trial detention periods are inordinately long. Some journalists, politicians and academics have been held for three years and are still awaiting trial. Others have been incarcerated for more than five years while their trial is ongoing.
Solidarity from the international academic community
Academics for Peace members in North America have started a campaign to raise awareness and elicit support.
In one day, the letter has been signed by 500 individuals, including Roald Hoffman, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, Torsten Wiesel, Bruce Alberts, Seyla Benhabib, Etienne Balibar, Wendy Brown, Eric Nestler, Judith Butler, Elazar Barkan, and Nancy Fraser.
“We call upon the Turkish government to immediately suspend the trials of all signatories to the Academics for Peace statement “We will not be a party to this crime.”Academics for Peace
We call upon the authorities to immediately exonerate Professor Zübeyde Füsun Üstel and the other 140 academics sentenced to prison for petitioning their government.
We express our solidarity with the academics and students who are targeted by the regime in Turkey for exercising their freedom of speech and academic freedom and we call upon academics around the world to use all available means to support them, including freezing academic collaborations with complicit higher education institutions and universities who deliberately target academic freedom.”