European Court: Ruling stands up for academic freedom in Turkey

European Court: Ruling stands up for academic freedom in Turkey - Media

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the decision of the European Court of Human Rights (European Court) in Telek and Others v. Turkey concerning violations of academic freedom. The case concerned three Turkish academics who were dismissed from their university positions and had their passports cancelled after they signed an online petition entitled Academics for Peace, criticising the Turkish government. This decision represents an important step in recognising and protecting academic freedom in the face of misuse of restrictive public order and anti-terrorism legislation in Turkey. 

Academics Alphan Telek, Edgar Şar, and Zeynep Kıvılcım were among more than 2,000 signatories of the Academics for Peace petition, published in January 2016 in criticism of the Turkish government’s actions in the southeastern region of the country. They were subsequently dismissed from their university positions and banned from public service under state of emergency legislation and charged with disseminating terrorist propaganda on behalf of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a recognised terrorist organisation by Turkey) under section 7 § 2 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Law no. 3713). 

The state of emergency terminated in July 2018, but in 2019 the applicants still did not have valid passports and were unable to travel, engage in academic work in Turkey or abroad, or legally challenge the measures taken against them. 

In May 2019, ARTICLE 19 submitted a third party intervention to the European Court regarding this case, alongside Turkey Litigation Support Project, Amnesty International, and PEN International. In the submission, we argued that:

  • International treaties, jurisprudence and soft law instruments, and several national constitutions recognise a number of fundamental human rights principles that underpin academic freedom; and
  • Restrictions on academic freedom often entail interference with other rights, including freedom of thought, of expression, of association, the right to education, liberty and security, freedom of movement, and the right to private life (key to this case); and that
  • The case was part of an ongoing trend of violations of freedom of expression in Turkey.

In its 21 March 2023 decision in favour of the applicants, the Court recognised ARTICLE 19 and its partners’ submission. It held that the withdrawal of the applicants’ passports on the grounds of their signatures of the petition was a violation of the right to private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It also found that the inability of the first two applicants, as a result of the cancellation of their passports, to pursue their doctoral studies in the foreign universities to which they had been admitted for such studies constituted a limitation on their right to education. Thus, Turkey also violated its obligations under Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 of the European Convention. 

Given the ongoing worsening of conditions for freedom of expression in Turkey, ARTICLE 19 welcomes the Court’s decision. We also call on the Turkish Government to undertake immediate steps to protect and safeguard academic freedom in the country and stop its retaliation against members of academia who are critical of the government and public authorities.