More than 300 academics from around the world have launched a petition campaign demanding the release of prominent professor and social scientist İştar Gözaydın, who has been behind bars since late December on terror charges.
Gözaydın was detained on Dec. 20 as part of an investigation conducted by the İzmir Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office into the faith-based Gülen movement. She was arrested on Dec. 27. The professor was head of the sociology department at the İzmir-based Gediz University, which was shut down by government decree along with thousands of other educational institutions in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt on July 15.
The academics’ petition is a letter intended for Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım. In the letter the academics say: “We, the undersigned, strongly urge the immediate release of İştar Gözaydın from her arrest at the Aliağa Ceza İnfaz Kurumları Kampüsü. All evidence that is available to us suggests that she is, in fact, a prisoner of conscience of the Turkish state. We request that charges be dismissed directly. In the same breath, we ask that others among the 14 members of Gediz University similarly incarcerated on December 20, 2016 and the hundreds of other academics, journalists and activists currently incarcerated under similar circumstances receive like consideration.”
The academics also voice their concerns about the arbitrary suspension, arrest and detention of scholars as part of sweeping actions taken by the Turkish state against members of the higher education community, warning that such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society in general.
A former Fulbright scholar, Gözaydın had worked as a research fellow at Birkbeck, University of London, and is also among the founders of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, a Turkish-based human rights organization.
The failed military coup attempt on July 15 killed over 240 people and wounded more than a thousand others. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement despite the lack of any evidence to that effect.
Although the Gülen movement strongly denies having any role in the putsch, the government accuses it of having masterminded the foiled coup. Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, called for an international investigation into the coup attempt, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.
In the currently ongoing post-coup purge, over 135,000 people, including thousands within the military, have been purged due to their real or alleged connection to the Gülen movement, according to a statement by the labor minister on Jan. 10. As of March 1, 93,248 people were being held without charge, with an additional 46,274 in pre-trial detention.
A total of 7,316 academics were dismissed, and 4,070 judges and prosecutors were purged over alleged coup involvement or terrorist links.