Turkish President Erdoğan accused of 'large scale attack on academic freedom'

Speed and scale of response suggests a purge rather than a process, warns student group

15,000 employees of Turkey's education ministry, ranging from teachers and administrators to university professors have been suspended | Photo credit: Press Association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

22 Jul 2016

The European Students’ Union has added its voice to a growing chorus of complaints about repression in Turkey's education sector following the recent attempted coup.

The last few days has seen the Turkish regime, under the direction of its President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, suspending more than 15,000 employees of the education ministry, ranging from teachers and administrators to university professors.

More than 1500 university deans have also been ordered to resign by the state-run higher education council (YÖK).


All academic staff have received travels bans and academics working outside the country have been recalled.

Reacting to the news, Lea Meister, President of the European Students’ Union (ESU), said, “This is in no way a legitimate response to the attempted coup and shouldn’t be perceived as such.

"By doing so the authorities have started a large scale attack on academic freedom in the country. The speed and scale of the arrests, suggests a purge rather than a process based on any evidence.”

Her comments are echoed by Helge Schwitters, Human Rights and Solidarity Coordinator of the ESU.

“Shutting down international cooperation between researchers and teachers poses a huge threat to openness and showcases a government that is afraid of critical assessment at a time when it’s most needed,” says Schwitters.

In a statement, the ESU called on the Turkish authorities to “reaffirm its commitment to democratic values, such as the rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of association and open debate.”

It goes on, “These values have been clearly communicated as the legitimate ground to fight back the attempted coup.”

Meanwhile, an extraordinary meeting of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee was convened earlier this week to debate the Turkish crisis despite the assembly starting its summer recess.

MEPs expressed concerns about the aftermath of the coup in which thousands of military, police, judges and governors have been dismissed or arrested.  

Members urged the Turkish government to “observe rule of law in the aftermath of the coup and not to pursue a witch-hunt against political opponents.”

The EU’s European External Action Service was also pressed to appoint a new head of the EU delegation to Turkey as a “matter of urgency.”

Socialist MEP Kati Piri, Parliament’s rapporteur on Turkey, underlined that the rule of law has to be respected and democracy strengthened in reaction to the coup.

“That is why,” she said, “we remain deeply concerned about the thousands of arrests of military police, judges, prosecutors and governors within such a short time. We also stress that the EU must closely monitor the upcoming trials of the alleged coup perpetrators."

Read the most recent articles written by Martin Banks - New EU regulations on AI seek to ban mass and indiscriminate surveillance