Turkey briefly detained 27 academics on Friday who had signed a petition condemning the military campaign against Kurdish militants in the country’s southeast, The New York Timesreported. Turkish authorities accused the scholars of spreading "terrorism propaganda" and of insulting the state. The arrested academics, who were reportedly released by Friday evening, were among more than 1,000 Turkish and foreign scholars who signed a petition demanding the government end what they called the "deliberate massacre" of Kurds.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the signatories of "treason" and of trying to undermine Turkey's national security. “Unfortunately, these so-called academics claim that the state is carrying out a massacre,” Erdogan said in a speech. “Hey, you so-called intellectuals: you are dark people. You are not intellectuals.”
The arrests of the 27 academics have heightened concerns about freedom of expression under Erdogan's presidency. The U.S. ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, issued a statement expressing concern about the “chilling effect” of the government’s actions on “legitimate political discourse.”
“Expressions of concern about violence do not equal support for terrorism," the ambassador's statement said. "Criticism of government does not equal treason.”
A researcher is among those reportedly being released by Iran as part of a deal with the United States. Initial reports Saturday did not mention the researcher, but The New York Times reported that Iran also agreed to release Matthew Trevithick, whom the Times identified as a student whose detention in Iran had not been previously reported.
The United States Institute of Peace released a statement from Trevithick's family in which they said he has been held in an Iranian prison for 40 days. He traveled to Iran, the statement said, in September for a four-month intensive language program at the Dehkhoda Institute, a language center affiliated with Tehran University. He was trying to build fluency in Dari, a language closely related to Farsi.
When he started his language training, Trevithick took a leave from his position as co-founder of the Syria Research and Evaluation Organization, which is based in Turkey. From 2010 to 2014, he was director of communications at the American University of Afghanistan, and he previously worked for the American University of Iraq.
The statement from AAU affirming its position says, in part: "Efforts to address political issues, or to address restrictions on academic freedom, should not themselves infringe upon academic freedom. Restrictions imposed on the ability of scholars of any particular country to work with their fellow academics in other countries, participate in meetings and organizations, or otherwise carry out their scholarly activities violate academic freedom. The boycott of Israeli academic institutions therefore clearly violates the academic freedom not only of Israeli scholars but also of American scholars who might be pressured to comply with it. We urge American scholars and scholars around the world who believe in academic freedom to oppose this and other such academic boycotts."
A South Korean court ordered a professor to pay 10 million won, or $8,262, to each of nine women who claim that her book on Japan’s World War II-era military brothels defamed them, The New York Times reported.
The women, South Koreans who say they were forced to work in the brothels, object to Park Yu-ha’s 2013 book, Comfort Women of the Empire, which critics argue parrots the views of Japanese apologists. Park, a professor of Japanese literature at Sejong University, in Seoul, said she will appeal the civil verdict. She also faces a separate criminal trial for alleged defamation.
Scholars argue that nationalist passions in Japan and South Korea, as well as in China, have distorted historical study of the euphemistically named "comfort women." Amid continuing historical disputes about whether women were "coerced" into the brothels and the extent of the Japanese government's direct involvement, the Japanese and South Korean governments recently announced a settlement in which Japan apologized to the women and pledged $8.3 million for their care in old age.
The University of Wollongong, in Australia, is being criticized for accepting a Ph.D. dissertation -- in its humanities division -- that criticizes the country's vaccination policy as a conspiracy between the pharmaceutical industry and the World Health Organization, The Australian reported. Many scientists say the paper is contradicted by a scientific consensus about vaccines and their value. A spokesperson for the university defended the thesis, saying that the institution "supports researchers’ academic freedom of thought and expression."
The Middle East Studies Association’s Committee on Academic Freedom is urging Egypt’s newly convened parliament to strike down two executive orders issued in 2014 that it says impinge on university autonomy and student freedoms. One of these two orders grants the country’s president the power to appoint administrators at Egypt’s public universities, while the second gives university presidents the right to expel students “who practice acts of vandalism” -- a term that the committee writes is prone to abuse because “vandalism” is loosely defined to include “obstruction” of classes and other university activities.
“There is a troubling history in Egypt of peaceful student demonstrations and other exercises of free speech rights being classified by the authorities as ‘obstruction,’” the committee wrote in a letter to Egyptian government authorities in which it urged repeal of the two orders as “a prerequisite for restoring the full range of freedoms that Egyptian faculty and students deserve.”
The Schwarzman Scholars program, which provides full funding for students to pursue a master’s degree at China's Tsinghua University, has named its inaugural class of students. The 111 students were selected from more than 3,000 applicants and come from 32 countries and 75 universities. Nearly half (44 percent) come from the U.S., 21 percent come from China and 35 percent come from the rest of the world.
A list of the award winners, who will study public policy, economics and business, and international studies at the residential Schwarzman College on Tsinghua’s campus, is available here.
Middle East Studies scholars are concerned about a new Turkish law that grants the Higher Education Council (YOK, by its Turkish acronym) authority to close private universities if their administrators “execute or support activities against the state’s indivisible integrity.” In a letter to Turkey’s prime minister, the Middle East Studies Association’s Committee on Academic Freedom described YOK's new regulatory powers as “emblematic of the increasing encroachment on academic freedom in Turkey over the last decade.”
“Under the new law, YOK would be empowered to seize control of private universities, appoint new administrators and place a private institution under the authority of an existing state university based on a YOK determination,” the committee wrote.
“In addition, the new law permits YOK to suspend specific programs at a private university, suspend the admission of new students and even shut down a university indefinitely. These astonishingly extensive powers can be triggered by minor procedural violations such as not providing YOK with timely access to documentation for its inspection activities. Equally troubling, the phrase 'activities against the state’s indivisible integrity' in the new law is both broad and vague, raising the prospect that it might be deployed to punish those deemed to be political opponents of the current government.”