December 19, 2016

Australian university professor jailed in Turkish purge

An internationally renowned Australian university professor has languished for five months in a Turkish jail cell without charge, with the Turnbull government blocked from providing assistance to him and other dual ­nationals who have fallen victim to a purge by President Recep ­Erdogan.

The Australian understands Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is personally aware of and sympathetic to the case of the dual Australian-Turkish academic, but multiple attempts to render consular assistance have been frustrated by Turkish authorities.

Details of the professor’s ­incarceration have emerged against the backdrop of further violence in Turkey, where 14 soldiers were killed on Saturday by a car-bomb in the central city of Kayseri. The attack, which Mr Erdogan has blamed on Kurdish separatists, follows this month’s twin blasts in Istanbul which killed 38 people, including 30 police officers.

The professor’s plight has been raised with senior figures within Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign ­Affairs by Australia’s ambassador in Ankara, James Larsen. ­Although Turkey recognises dual citizens, it treats them solely as Turkish nationals in legal disputes and rarely grants consular access to them.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade continues to seek to offer consular assistance to an Australian-Turkish dual-­national academic … detained in Turkey,’’ a spokeswoman for Ms Bishop said.

More than 100,000 people have been purged since July, when Mr Erdogan survived a ­failed coup attempt.

The Turkish government and police have targeted anyone with links to exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, the leader of the inter­national Hizmet movement.

An Australian colleague of the jailed university professor said the academic, a prominent Hizmet supporter, knew he was going to be arrested when he saw his name listed as a fugitive in a newspaper. On the advice of a lawyer, he agreed to turn himself in at police headquarters in Ankara.

The professor’s wife drove him to the police station and waited outside.

It was the last time she saw him until she learned he had been ­imprisoned. Supporters of the professor say he was tortured and pressured to sign a pre-written confession.

The Turkish university where the professor was teaching at the time of the coup has been shut down. It is estimated that since the failed coup, 180 media outlets, 15 universities and more than 1000 schools have been forcibly closed and nearly 30,000 public servants arrested.

Victims of the purge include dual nationals who have fled to Australia to escape persecution. The Australian is also aware of a Turkish national who has claimed political asylum in Australia after travelling to Sydney for a cultural conference.

The former teacher, who calls himself Adam, holds grave fears for the safety of his wife and two children, who are trapped in Turkey after having their passports confiscated at the airport.

The Australian met another Turkish citizen who was planning to apply for asylum after coming to Australia on a tourist visa. The man, known as Abdullah, spent 30 years working at an education ­organisation aligned with Hizmet, an Islamic cultural movement with deep roots throughout modern Turkish society.

Mr Erdogan has accused Gulen of being a terrorist. He publicly refers to Hizmet as the Gulen Terror Group, or FETO. Mr Gulen, previously a political ally of Mr Erdogan, opposes violent ­extremism and denies any ­involvement in the failed coup.

The dual citizens who have fled to Australia are connected to the Hizmet movement through academia or business. “I am one of the lucky persons, I escaped the country,’’ said Cane, an academic critical of government policy. “I have friends in prison who can’t leave.’’

The breadth and intensity of Turkey’s purge has been likened to China’s Cultural Revolution in which neighbours, classmates, workmates and even family members were encouraged to denounce those closest to them.

The former manager of a ­Hizmet-aligned business association said his board directors, ­association members and those they did business with had been jailed. “I knew they were going to come back for me,’’ he said.

“I left everything in Turkey. I left food on the stove.’’

Those fleeing the purges asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals against family members still in Turkey.

Published on The Australian, 19 December 2016, Monday