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The detention of 19 academics in Turkey represents a new assault on the imperiled right to freedom of expression, Amnesty International said today.

     

The wave of detentions started on Friday, targeting academics who had signed a petition calling for peace and criticizing Turkish military operations in the south-east. Signatories have also received death threats on social media, and have been compared to terrorists by President Recep Tayip Erdoğan earlier today.

“The military operations taking place under round-the-clock curfews are generating huge suffering and widespread human rights violations. The Turkish authorities should be listening to those that are speaking out, not arresting them,” said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Turkey researcher.

“The detention and harassment of these academics is an ominous marker of the precarious state of human rights in Turkey. They have as much right as anyone else to exercise their right to freedom of expression, without being branded as terrorists and menaced with arrest.”

“These detentions, coupled with President Erdoğan’s remarks, suggest that the crackdown in the Kurdish south-east is being extended to anyone who dares criticize government operations.

“We urge the Turkish authorities to stop rounding up academics who speak their mind, drop the investigations against them and ensure their safety. Their treatment is a stain on Turkey’s conscience.”

The investigations target more than 1,000 academics in Turkey – known as the “Academicians for Peace” – who signed a petition entitled “We will not be a partner to this crime” – referring to the offensive in the south-east.

The academics are being investigated under laws prohibiting “making propaganda for a terrorist organization” as well as laws against “denigrating the Turkish nation.”

In a speech today, President Erdoğan referred to the academics as the “darkest of the dark”, adding that “they commit the same crime as those who carry out massacres.” Earlier this week, the president described the petition as a “betrayal” and referred to the academics as “a fifth column” for terrorists.

Several academics have since reported receiving threats on social media, on telephone, and in messages left with their universities. Nationalist mafia boss Sedat Peker also threatened the group, saying “we will make your blood run” and “we will bathe in your blood.”

Twenty-four-hour curfews have been imposed in parts of south-eastern Turkey since December, as the army and police conduct operations against the Revolutionary Patriotic Youth Movement, the youth wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group.

More than 200,000 people live in the affected areas, which include the towns of Cizre and Şırnak, and the Sur district of the city of Diyarbakır. Some are unable to access food and medical care, and face severe shortages of water and electricity. More than 150 residents and at least 24 soldiers and police officers have reportedly been killed since curfews were first applied in August 2015.