Center for Turkey Studies CEFTUS held “Academic freedom in Turkey” discussion in the British Parliament.
The panel discussion held on a petition signed by 1128 academics in January for Peace, calling for an end to "Turkey's deliberate deportation of Kurdish people."
The Westminster Debate was hosted by Keith Vaz, Labour MP for Leicester East and chaired by Sara Whyatt, freelance countant for Freedom of Expression. The Westminster Debate discussed academic freedom in Turkey. This discussion stemmed from a series of events which took place in Turkey, beginning in January 2016, which saw attacks on academic freedom and restrictions on freedom of speech.
The keynote speakers for the debate were Gulseren Onanc, Assembly Member of the Republican People's Party (CHP), Sinem Arslan of the University of Essex, Dr Janroj Keles of Middlesex University, and Dr Elizabeth, President of the University and College Union (UCU). The debate was chaired by Sara Whyatt, freelance consultant for Freedom of Expression.
Gulseren Onanc, began her speech by giving an overview of the infrastructure and political landscape in Turkey saying that there are four main political parties in Turkey, while almost total executive power lies in one party and its president, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“This monopoly on power leaves little room for any participation from the opposition and civil societies, who have different positions on the Kurdish issue than the AKP. The current government appropriates a secularism and security understanding that excludes the Kurdish people. They are ignorant to critical voices” claimed Ms Onanc.
According to Onanc, the main challenges to overcome, were the need to abolish the existing polarisation between parties and to establish trust with politicians. Additionally, there is a need to regain the problem solving capacities that have been lose through the exclusion of critical voices. The solutions proposed by Onanc is to be found in civic initiatives, by active citizens discussing and establishing solution, by the courage of the people. Freedom of expression has been violated, she stated, and everyone needs to contribute and cooperate in order for solutions to be realised.
A phd candidate Sinem Aslan from Middlesex University told that how she had seen her peers and fellow signatories subjected to smear campaigns, referred to as ‘terrorists' and ‘pseudo-intellectuals', accused of inciting people to violence after signed the petition. Arslan said, “There is a need for increased international support and legal processes, an increase in the international discussion about what can be done in solidarity with Academics for Peace”
Another panelist Dr Janroj Keles told that Turkish government who have been doing the same thing over and over again, yet expecting a different result claiming that unless action is taken, he stressed, there would be increased negative impacts on scholarly and critical research. “Young academics will be scared and leave the country, which will ultimately result in a loss of production of critical knowledge and limited access to critical debates” he continued.
The panel finalised with Dr Elisabeth Lawrance's speech, President of the University and College Union (UCU). She suggested that, “Every individual should be entitled to the ability to question without risking their liberty. To be critical, and to question, is the heart of what it is to be a university, and this principle has been internationally recognised”
“The academics in question should be reinstated, their rights respected, and there should be a return to legality. she argued, would see a step towards a sustainable peace in Turkey, and an end to oppression; individuals should have the right to question what is happening without risking a loss of liberty or employment” she added.
In January 1,128 academics signed a petition, organised by Academics for Peace, calling for an end to "Turkey's deliberate deportation of Kurdish people." In the days and weeks that followed 27 academics were detained by the police over allegations of "terror propaganda" they and others were labelled as "traitors" others were investigated by police, slandered by the government, and lost their jobs.
Although there has been disagreement surrounding the content of the petition in question, many from the Turkish opposition and international organisations were critical of the government's response and its violation of its obligation to protect freedom of expression under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.