January 2, 2016

‘AK Party puts pressure on academia through ‘parallel’ accusations’

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government is putting pressure on dissident voices among Turkish academics through baseless accusations, such as their being members of a terrorist “parallel structure,” a former university rector, Sedat Laçiner, who was kept in custody for four days last week, said.

Laçiner was released under judicial supervision on Dec. 29 after he was detained on Dec. 26, along with 28 individuals, including lawyers, academics, retired teachers, doctors, businessmen, university students and executives of local associations, on charges of membership in a “parallel structure”, establishing an armed organization, fraud, financing terrorism and violating the Law on Associations.

Five of them were arrested late on Dec. 29, while 23 of them, including Laçiner, were released in groups on Dec. 28 and Dec. 29.

The term parallel structure was invented by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to refer to sympathizers of the Gülen movement within the state bureaucracy, following a corruption investigation that implicated people in his inner circle in December 2013, which Erdoğan blames on the movement. Since then, Erdoğan has promised a war against the movement and infamously said he would even carry out a “witch hunt” against it. The Gülen movement rejects the accusations.

Hundreds of academics have been either transferred or dismissed from state universities, and several others have also been pressured into resignations due to their alleged connection with the Gülen movement.

Ali Atıf Bir, the rector of İstanbul Şehir University, which is owned by Yıldız Holding CEO Murat Ülker, was forced to leave his position due to pressure from pro-government media on the owner of the university. Bir is also a former columnist at the Bugün daily, which was taken over by government-appointed trustees in October 2015.

Pro-government Star daily columnist Cem Küçük, known for his threats towards people critical of the government, demanded in his column for the Star daily on Nov. 7 that Higher Education Board (YÖK) President Yekta Saraç take over the administration of 17 private universities for their alleged links with the faith-based Gülen movement. Küçük said that Saraç, who has the authority to seize the administration of private universities through a recent regulation, was reluctant to pursue his recommendations and had failed in his fight against the so-called parallel structure.

In what many have described as a severe blow to academic freedom in Turkey, a newly drafted regulation posted on the YÖK website on Oct. 30 proposed the closure of private universities “that have become a focal point for activities against the state's indivisible integrity.”

‘A land without justice is not a country'

A renowned academic specializing in international relations, security and Middle Eastern politics, Laçiner told reporters after his release from Çanakkale courthouse on Dec. 29 that “the basic rule of law must apply to everyone, no matter which crime they are accused of. A land without justice is not a country. … I don't know what exactly my crime is because no evidence for it has been forthcoming.”

Urging people to speak out against unlawful incidents in Turkey, Laçiner said: “We have to raise our voices. We have to speak out for the sake of everyone in this country. Our belief in the law has been renewed once again.”

The academic also underlined that he is a man of science and a journalist and that his life has been spent lecturing on how to fight terrorism. “I have served my country well. I give lectures for 25 hours a week, and I talk about fighting terrorism,” he added.

In series of posts from his personal Twitter account after his release, Laçiner said the government calls its critics members of a “parallel structure” or terrorists, and if that doesn't work, they imprison them because this is the way to silence opposition figures, journalists and academics in the new Turkey.

In his last column before he was detained, published on haberdar.com on Dec 23, Laçiner complained about deteriorating press freedom in Turkey and the growing number of journalists being imprisoned. He was also a columnist for the pro-government Star newspaper until he was fired in June 2014.

No court ruling has been issued against Gülen and hundreds of other people including police officers, journalista, judges, businessmen and bureaucrats for their alleged links with the Gülen movement in the ongoing government-orchestrated investigations.

Investigations targeting the Gülen movement have been criticized by many international organizations, including Interpol, which reportedly rejected a number of requests from the AK Party in 2015 to issue international warrants against people alleged to have links with the movement and who live abroad, on the grounds that it has not been provided with any evidence of crimes.

Interpol also notified the AK Party government in August that it does not recognize the Gülen movement as a criminal organization that is attempting to topple the Turkish government.

Published on Today's Zaman, 2 January 2016, Saturday