Turkey hands suspended jail sentences to three academics over Kurdish letter: lawyers

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A Turkish court sentenced three academics on Friday to suspended prison terms on terrorism charges for signing a 2016 petition calling for an end to state violence against Turkey’s Kurds, two lawyers in the case said.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses the audience during a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, February 21, 2018. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

The three from Istanbul University, who each received suspended jail sentences of 15 months, were the first to be convicted of 148 academics now being prosecuted for signing the open letter to the Turkish government.

The three were found guilty of using the media to spread terrorist propaganda.

The letter, entitled “We will not be a party to this crime!”, was published in January 2016 in reaction to months of fighting between the state and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), after a 2-1/2-year ceasefire broke down in 2015.

The government put large parts of the southeast under curfew and some largely Kurdish areas were bombarded by heavy weapons.

Calling themselves “Academics for Peace”, the 1,128 signatories included Turkish scholars and prominent overseas academics such as American linguist Noam Chomsky.

They said Turkey was condemning residents of towns in the southeast to hunger through the use of curfews and also called for a solution to the conflict that included talks with the Kurdish political movement.

The government says its measures were necessary to root out Kurdish militants who had dug trenches and laid explosives. The United Nations has estimated the security operations left 2,000 people dead and up to half a million displaced.


“I do not think the verdict is lawful,” said one of the lawyers who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue. “What they did does not constitute a crime under terror laws. There needs to be a call to violence for it to be a crime.”

The lawyer said there would not be an appeal, citing a lack of trust in the Turkish judicial system.

The trials of seven other academics who also appeared before a court on Friday were adjourned until April, the lawyers said.

The PKK, considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, has waged a three-decade insurgency against the state that has killed more than 40,000 people.

Since a failed coup in July 2016, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has embarked on a large-scale crackdown that has seen more than 50,000 people arrested and some 150,000, including many academics, sacked or suspended from their jobs.

The government says its clampdown is necessary given the security threats that Turkey faces.

Editing by David Dolan and Gareth Jones