Prominent Turkish Academic Attempts Suicide in Jail

Under pressure. Kemal Gürüz, a chemical engineer, is one of eight Turkish scientists being unfairly persecuted by the Turkish government, according to a new report.

Photo courtesy of Gürüz family

A prominent chemical engineer and opponent of political Islam in Turkey attempted suicide last Friday in Ankara's Sincan prison, according to people close to him. Kemal Gürüz, a former president of Turkish Council of Higher Education and of the research funding agency TÜBITAK, has been in prison for more than a year on what his supporters say are political charges.

Gürüz, 65, tried to cut the veins in his wrists with glass from a broken window on Friday evening, says Celal Şengör, a geologist at Istanbul Technical University and a friend of Gürüz. He was immediately taken to a hospital and is not in danger. Şengör, who is in contact with Gürüz's wife, says that the failed suicide attempt followed the liberation of tens of prisoners detained on similar charges; he says Gürüz despaired because he wasn't released as well.

Gürüz was arrested on 25 June 2012. A spokesperson of the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies (IHRNASS) says that he has been indicted in the so-called Postmodern Coup Trial, an inquiry into the role of the military in the collapse of the first Islamist-led government in Turkey, in 1997. Gürüz denied all responsibility in a letter from jail in July 2012. According to Şengör, a foreign associate of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, he has never been heard in court.

As head of the Turkish Council of Higher Education between 1997 and 2003, Gürüz fiercely opposed Islamist influence in education; he also discharged a university rector named Beşir Atalay, who is now Turkey's deputy prime minister. Şengör believes that his detention is "revenge" by the current Islamist government for Gürüz's secular activism.

Gürüz had previously been jailed for a few days in January 2009 on charges of having worked for Ergenekon, an organization the government claims is conspiring to destabilize the country. "Turkey has come to the front row of countries that harass and imprison scientists in the last few years," says Eugene Chudnovsky, co-chair of the Committee of Concerned Scientists (CCS), a charity based in New York City that is campaigning for Gürüz's release. According to CCS, Turkey still holds at least five other leading scientists and intellectuals on dubious accusations.