Sunday, April 24, 2016

Charges scaled back for Turkish academics accused of "spreading terrorist propaganda"

by Salman Hameed

The last few years have been harsh for Turkish academics. But things got even worse this past March when several academics were arrested simply for signing a petition. They were charged with "spreading terrorist propaganda" (see this earlier post: Strong Nature Editorial on Turkey). Now four of the accused academics were released by a Turkish court on the first day of their trial when prosecutors scaled back the charges. They are not out of hot water yet - as they still face the charge of "denigrating Turkishness", but this is still progress. From The Guardian:
The four, on trial for signing a petition denouncing the government’s military operations against Kurdish rebels, were released “pending permission from the justice ministry” to change the charge, lawyer Benan Molu told Agence France-Presse. 
Under the original charge, Esra Mungan, Meral Camcı, Kivanç Ersoy and Muzaffer Kaya faced up to seven and a half years behind bars. 
But prosecutors want to bring charges against them under under article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code that states that “denigrating Turkishness” is a criminal act. The offence carries a maximum sentence of two years in jail. 
Supporters in court applauded as the four walked free, with the judge setting setting the next hearing for 27 September. 
Earlier, Kaya had fiercely defended the petition, telling the court that the state had “not managed to stifle the voices of our conscience” and that he and the three other academics had been arrested for criticising political power, Dogan news agency said.
The petition had urged Ankara to halt “its deliberate massacres and deportation of Kurdish and other peoples in the region”, infuriating the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who accused the academics of falling into a “pit of treachery”. 
The four stood accused of engaging in “terrorist propaganda” and “inciting hatred and enmity” for signing the plea and making a statement on the same lines on 10 March, a day before the petition was published. 
They had been held in high-security closed prisons in Istanbul since their arrest last month. 
As well as signatories from more than 90 Turkish universities, the petition was also endorsed by dozens of foreigners, among them the US linguist Noam Chomsky and the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek.
Read the full article here.


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