Sunday, December 07, 2014

Jail time for a Turkish astrophysicist for blocking headscarf students

by Salman Hameed


Astrophysicist Pekünlü photographed while taking pictures of women wearing headscarfs

This is a fascinating story that provides some insight into the changing political landscape in Turkey. An astronomy professor has been sent to jail for 25 months for repeatedly blocking students wearing headscarves from entering the faculty building where he worked. Until recently (2010), headscarves were banned in Turkish public universities - and I think that such a ban was atrocious. Now, this professor, Esat Rennan Pekünlü, is accused of violating the rights of students as well as their privacy (he also took photographs of headscarved students - but he himself got photographed doing all that as well - see the picture above) by preventing their access to the building. While I wholeheartedly agree that this professor is a schmuck, a 25 month sentence seems a bit harsh and I'm sure there is more to the story than is in the news. Nevertheless, it is good to see some basic defense of rights being taken seriously. Here is the story from World Bulletin
The Supreme Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court's decision to sentence a Turkish professor from Ege University to over two years in prison because he repeatedly blocked headscarved women from entering the faculty building where he worked. 
The İzmir 4th Criminal Court of First Instance last year convicted the professor of violating the privacy of Fatma Nur Gidal -- one of the women he prevented from entering the building and the plaintiff in the case -- as well as violating her right to access to education. 
The professor, Esat Rennan Pekünlü, from the university's department of astronomy and space sciences, was caught on camera in May taking photographs of headscarved students and preventing them from entering the building. 
The Higher Education Board (YÖK) lifted a ban on the wearing of the Muslim headscarf on university campuses in 2010. However, some universities continue to impose the notorious ban. Opponents of the ban, including conservatives and many liberal intellectuals, think that such a ban contravenes fundamental rights as it deprives some citizens of their right to education. 
Pekünlü was captured by cameramen of the Cihan news agency while he was standing at the door of his faculty building and taking photos of headscarved students. Cameramen had arrived at the faculty after some students tipped them off that the professor was violating the rights of women wearing headscarves at their university.
And no - not all astrophysicists are like this.

Nature blogs also mention that there is a petition by eight academic institutions in Pekünlü's defense: 
A group of eight academic organizations released a statement in support of Pekünlü, raising concerns about the fairness of the trial and framing it as an attack against secular academicians. They wrote that his case should have been handled by an administrative rather than a criminal court. Moreover, Pekünlü cannot avoid prison by paying a fine, since he has been sentenced to 25 months of jail. Under Turkish law, sentences of up to 24 months can be avoided by paying a fine.
Also this BBC story: Quite End to Turkey's College Headscarf Ban.

1 comment:

Leftwhinge said...

Wow! Just came across your blog. Went through your posts. You are a brave brave man...People like you keep my faith in civilization!