Academics who demanded peace between Turkey, Kurds receive jail sentences

Some 27 academics who signed a petition asking Turkey to end violence against Kurds in 2016 were sentenced in total to 670 months jail on 20 February, over “promoting for a terrorist organization” charge.

More than 2,000 signatories said in the petition: “We will not be part of this crime,” referring to heavy clashes in Turkey’s Kurdish-populated towns, between security forces and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade-old insurgency in the region and was designated as a terrorist organization by Ankara.

The academics asked the Turkish government to continue talks with the PKK, mentioning the Kurdish-Turkish peace process which had been in effect between 2013 and July 2015, until a renewed full-scale warfare hit the country.

The petition highlighted violations of international law during the clashes in the southeast and accused Ankara of a deliberate and planned massacre and replacement.

Istanbul 33th High Criminal Court which merged the files of 27 academics convicted prominent academics including Dr. Erol Katırcıoğlu from Marmara University, Prof. Dr. İsmet Akça of Boğaziçi University, Dr. Hülya Kirmanoğlu from Istanbul University.

Adil Demirci, a lawyer of an academic objected to conviction arguing that the verdict violates the Constitution and basic rights of citizens, such as freedom of thought, with no admittance by the court.

Academic Haydar Durak said, during the trial, “we just wanted peace. Peace is not a crime anywhere in the world.” Citing previous courts sentences against some other academics who signed the petition, he said to the judge “I hope you don’t make the same erroneous decision.”

In his defense during the final hearing, Ozgur Muftuoglu, another academic said “I demanded the right to make peace which is a universal right. I still think we are not going to get punished, because there is no crime involved.”

However, the court found 13 academics guilty of “spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization” referring to PKK, and sentenced them to one year, 10 months and 15 days each.

If those academics are not convicted of the same “crime” throughout five years, according to Turkish law, they will not be imprisoned.

Some 14 academics, on the other hand, received two years and three months of prison sentences, with the same charge of “the propaganda of a terrorist organization.”

As their sentences surpassed the two-year limit, the suspension of the pronouncement of the judgment was not applied for those, which means they are in danger of being jailed, depending on the decision of an appellate court.

Muftuoglu spoke to Voice of America Turkey following the decisions and said: “We, as academics, uttered our wish for peace. We acted within the limits of law when doing so. But we were punished. So, being inside [the jail] or outside becomes meaningless.”

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