Concerns Over Arrests of Turkish Academics

January 18, 2016

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 Times reported. 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.”

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