To the Editor:
On December 18, a security force of 3,600, backed by tanks, entered the campus of the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey, to prevent a peaceful march by approximately 500 students who had gathered to protest the prime minister’s visit to the campus. Without warning, the police force attacked the students with an intense volley of pepper gas.
The morning after the protest, the homes of a dozen students were searched, their computer hard disks were confiscated, and the students themselves were taken into custody on allegations of having a role in the events. The prosecutor has declared that they are being charged by terror-related felonies. The pressure created by a crowd of supporters and lawyers gathered at the detention facility where the students were held led to the release of students a day later, but their computer disks have been withheld to be used by the prosecution in drafting the charges against them. The Turkish government has so far not taken any responsibility for many injured students, six of whom had serious injuries, and one hospitalized in unconscious state in an intensive care unit.
This action is part of an escalating series of violent attacks with pepper spray by the Turkish government upon peaceful protestors, including the incident that led to the death of a protestor on May 31, 2011, the attack on citizens celebrating the 90th anniversary of the republic on October 29, 2012, and the assault on the small groups of individuals engaged in prayer in support of political prisoners on November 9.
The use of disproportionate physical violence on a university campus complements the government’s policy of dismissal and prosecution of faculty members this past year on the basis of vaguely defined political charges. Some faculty members are still under arrest awaiting due process, while 800 university students are in prison, roughly 0.1 percent of the student population.
We believe that these events are part of a systematic attack on the most basic right of students and staff on a campus, the right to free speech. Free speech, a universal human right, is also guarded by the constitution of the Turkish Republic. The violation of this right, very concerning in itself, acquires greater severity when exercised on a university campus, in that the very institution of a university must rely on unrestricted exercise of freedom of expression. International acknowledgement of this infringement of academic freedom and support of the students, faculty, and staff involved is crucial to resisting the power of this violent and dangerous anti-democratic government.
Ayse Deniz Temiz
Amy C. Smith
Assistant Professor of English