First Published: 2017-12-05

Turkey begins trial of academics on ‘terror’ charges
Over 1,120 academics to stand hugely controversial trial for signing petitions in January 2016 calling for end to military crackdown on Kurdish rebels.
Middle East Online

Protester placard reads 'Academy will not bow to government'

ISTANBUL - Turkey on Tuesday began the hugely controversial trial of a group of academics charged with terror offences for signing a petition calling for peace in the Kurdish-dominated southeast.

Over 1,120 Turkish and also foreign academics signed the petition which emerged in January 2016 calling for an end to the military's crackdown on outlawed Kurdish rebels in the southeast that had begun six months earlier.

The academics say the petition was an apolitical call for peace but prosecutors charged 146 of the signatories with making propaganda for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The first 10 -- from Istanbul University and Galatasaray University -- went on trial in Istanbul on Tuesday with the hearing attended by EU diplomats including the French ambassador.

Each suspect had a 10-minute hearing at the start of a marathon process expected to continue until at least April. The prosecution has chosen not to stage a mass trial involving all the suspects in the same case.

In the first hearings, the defence argued that the petition was "within boundaries of freedom of expression" and demanded their immediate acquittal, a journalist in the court said.

Their next hearings will take place on April 12. Ten more academics will appear in court on Thursday with further sessions scheduled throughout December and January.

Outside the court, students gathered in support of their lecturers, brandishing banners with slogans, including: "Don't touch my professor!"

- 'Shocking miscarriage of justice' -

If convicted, the suspects face up to seven-and-a-half years in jail. None of those who went on trial on Tuesday is currently being held behind bars.

Professor Ibrahim Kaboglu, whose hearing is set for December 21, called the trial an "absurdity."

"It's a paradoxical dilemma. There's no logic. It cannot be justified legally," said Kaboglu, who lost his job after signing the petition.

"The trial is rooted in freedom of expression, which is a crucial problem for Turkey," he said.

Renowned US philosopher and linguist Noam Chomsky, who also signed the petition, issued a statement in solidarity with the Turkish scholars, criticising the penal case as a "shocking miscarriage of justice."

"The case is an assault against fundamental rights of free expression that should be zealously safeguarded," the leftwing academic said in a message.

France said it was monitoring the case with "great attention", calling on Turkey to respect its commitments on human rights and fundamental freedoms.

"Respect for the right to a fair trial and the promotion of an active and pluralistic civil society are essential components of any democracy," the French foreign ministry said in a statement.

It emphasised France's support for Galatasaray University -- set up in 1992 under a Turkish-French agreement -- hailing it as an "essential pillar of French-Turkish cooperation."

- 'Deliberate, planned massacre' -

Turkey's latest campaign against the PKK has been backed by heavy ground offensives the government says are necessary to crush a terror group but activists say the operation has been marked by disregard for civilian lives.

The petition denounced a "deliberate and planned massacre" in the southeast, which it said was "in serious violation of international law."

Erdogan sharply criticised the signatories, saying they were "party to" the bloodshed being carried out by the PKK, and invited his foreign critics, including Chomsky, to come see the situation for themselves.

But Human Rights Watch on Tuesday said the trials violated the right to freedom of speech and were a "misuse of terrorism laws".

The prosecution claims that the academics were responding to a call from a senior PKK figure for intellectuals to support the Kurdish militant cause.

The trials opened to the backdrop of growing concern over freedom of expression in Turkey following a massive crackdown in the wake of the failed coup of July 2016 against Erdogan's rule.

Since then, thousands of employees in the education sector have been dismissed under laws linked to the state of emergency, among them 463 of the academics who signed the petition, HRW said.

 

Pentagon skeptical about Russia's Syria pullout claims

Senior Saudi prince blasts Trump's "opportunistic" Jerusalem move

Kuwait ruler’s son named defence minister

EU accused of complicity in Libya migrant rights violations

Saudi Arabia lifts decades-long ban on cinemas

Israeli sentenced to four years for arson attack on church

Erdogan risks sabotaging fragile relations with Israel

6.2-magnitude earthquake strikes Iran

Two Gazans killed by Israeli ‘strike’, Israel denies claim

French FM accuses Iran of carving out ‘axis’ of influence

Somali journalist killed in front of children

Over 170 dead after South Sudan rival cattle herders clash

Russia begins partial withdrawal from Syria

Russia weary of returning IS jihadists before World Cup, election

EU says Syria war ‘ongoing’ despite Russia pullout

Istanbul nightclub gunman refuses to testify

Integrating Syrians in Turkey carries implications

US opinion views Muslims and Arabs more favourably but political affiliation makes a difference

Iranian conservative protesters say Trump hastening end of Israel

Jordan referred to UN for failing to arrest Sudanese president

Turkey demands life for journalists in coup bid trial

Netanyahu expects EU to follow suit on Jerusalem

Putin orders withdrawal of ‘significant’ amount of troops from Syria

Putin to meet with Sisi in Cairo

GCC at a critical juncture

Houthi rebels tighten grip on Sanaa after Saleh’s assassination

Israel’s Syrian air strikes risk renewing escalation as Iran expands presence in Golan

Qatar to acquire 24 Typhoon fighters from UK

Bahraini civil society group criticised after Israel visit

Israel PM faces renewed pressure in Europe

Palestinian stabs Israeli guard in ‘terrorist’ attack

UAE’s Sheikh Mohammed says US Jerusalem decision could help terrorists

Fateh encourages more protests, refuses to meet Pence

Chinese electric carmaker to open Morocco factory

Iraqi victory over IS remains fragile

Morocco’s renewed ties with South Africa likely to consolidate support for Western Sahara stance

Lebanese security forces fire tear gas at protestors

Syria’s justice system: ‘working without a written law'

Egypt revives controversial desert capital project

Iran sentences fugitive ex-bank chief to jail

Iraq announces 'end of the war against Daesh'

Israeli air strike kills 2 in Gaza

UK foreign minister in Iran to push for Briton's release

Turkey's Erdogan seeks to lead Muslim response on Jerusalem

Iraqi Christians celebrate in town retaken from IS