The flag of Turkey.

The flag of Turkey.

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Update: Vacationing Turkish scholar arrested after her return

*Update: Turkish media are reporting today that Meral Camcı was arrested upon returning to Istanbul after a vacation in France. According to reports, she turned herself in willingly. Science's pre-arrest interview with Camcı, published 22 March, appears below. 

The simmering war between Turkish academics and their increasingly repressive government came to a boil last week with arrests and an escape. It began in January with the firing of dozens of academics, many of them scientists, from Turkey’s universities. All had signed an online petition by a group calling itself Academics for Peace that is critical of the government’s treatment of the Kurdish minority group. The firings sparked protests and statements from scientific organizations, including the U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, calling on the government to respect freedom of speech.

The standoff held until 13 March, when Kurdish separatists set off a car bomb in the capital, killing 37 people. The next day Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, announced that the definition of “terrorism” should be expanded to include all who provide support in the form of “propaganda” and specifically called out academics.

Within hours of the president’s speech, police arrived at the homes of four Turkish researchers. Three are now imprisoned; Turkish academics fear that many more arrests will follow. But Meral Camcı, a literary scholar who had been dismissed from her faculty position at Yeni Yüzyıl University in Istanbul, had gone to France on vacation just days before.

Science contacted Camcı through Turkish expat researchers. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: More than 2000 scholars have signed the petition. What consequences have they suffered?

A: At Turkey’s 109 public universities, there have been at least 10 dismissals, five resignations, 471 disciplinary investigations, 27 suspensions, 156 criminal investigations, and 35 detentions. And at the 84 private universities, at least 23 faculty members have been sacked, one was forced to retire, and 62 face investigations.

Q: Why were you singled out for arrest?

A: I was one of the four who read a press release on the 10th of March on behalf of Academics for Peace in Istanbul. This might have been the reason why they chose us first, but the criminal charges were based on the peace petition, which was titled “We will not be a party to this crime!”

Q: What motivated you to take the risk?

A: I wanted to make a contribution to the struggle for peace and democratic rights in my country, including the freedom of expression. What I could do was to sign a petition, which spoke out against the “unacceptable deeds” of the state in the Kurdish regions of the country, and called for the state to take immediate steps toward peace. As for the [10 March] press release, what I can say is that after all the retaliations academics have faced, we wanted to emphasize that we are still standing for peace. [We also wanted] to make clear what we have been through at the universities—a kind of witch hunt carried out with dismissals, forced resignations, and disciplinary investigations. I am not afraid of anyone or any institution to use my constitutionally guaranteed human rights: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of thought, and my right to share and publish my
peaceful demands.

Q: When can you safely return home?

A: I cannot say at the moment. But I am not seeking political asylum.

Q: What is your next move?

A: Our attorneys are trying to get the decision of the court canceled. There are no valid grounds under Turkish law. We have to denounce these unlawful and unjust arrests of our three colleagues.

*This article was updated at 3:15 p.m., 31 March, with additional information.