“Democracy cannot exist without freedom of expression” said the statement signed by 610 academics from various universities including some in the United States, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Austria and Turkey.
“We, the undersigned academics, believe that freedom of expression is the core element of academic life... we think that the reaction of the government and the Higher Education Council [YÖK] toward the petition entitled ‘We shall not be a party to this crime' signed by over 1,000 academics is wrong and disturbing” the statement said.
The statement came amid a criminal complaint against a group of people, including 15 academics out of a total of 1,228 who signed the petition to call for peace, as well as overt death threats by ultranationalist Sedat Peker that directly targeted the academics. The scholars also demanded state protection as they said “our lives are in danger” in a criminal complaint filed with the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office.
“We will let your blood flow in streams and take a shower in your blood” Peker, a well-known convicted criminal, said in a message posted on his personal website on Jan. 13. The message titled as “The So-Called Intellectuals, The Bells Will Toll for You First” was posted just a day after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called more than 1,000 Turkish and international academics as “poor excuses for intellectuals.”
The statement from the 610 also said public debate and criticism were the basic tenets of democracy, whereas silencing and persecuting dissent were the hallmarks of authoritarianism.
“The attempt to punish the academics who express their opinions regarding the burning problems which are currently affecting the country constitutes a blow to academic freedom. Social progress is bound to be impeded by such an attack” it added.
Science Academy concerned over freedom of expression
Science Academy, a Turkish NGO, said in a written statement released on Saturday that it is concerned over the reactions to a recent petition by some 1,128 academics and detentions that came after, saying that blocking ideas would result in intellectual, social and economic standstill.
“As the Science Academy, we are observing in great concern and sadness the incidents that developed upon a petition titled ‘We won't be part of this crime' and signed by more than 1,000 academics” is said in a written statement.
“As it is the case for all citizens, it is a basic freedom for all scientists to express their ideas how disturbing or in minority they are” it said.
“Taking this right from them will eventually result in intellectual regression and social and economic standstill, as the European Council also puts it,” the NGO said, adding that it was ready to support freedom of expression to universities.
Turkish police detained Jan. 15 dozens of academics who signed a petition calling for an end to military operations in southeastern Anatolia, while more than 130 academics are facing criminal charges. The moves come just days after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan slammed the signatories for making “terrorist propaganda.