December 5, 2017 / 2:25 PM / 2 years ago

Turkish academics to be tried in April over Kurdish letter

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A Turkish court on Tuesday adjourned for four months the trial of 10 academics who signed a letter to the Turkish government last year calling for violence against Turkey’s Kurds to end.

A demonstrator holds scarf reading "Do not touch my Academics" in front of the Justice Palace during first of a series of trials that will begin against a total of some 150 academics from public and private universities accused of spreading terrorist propaganda, in Istanbul, Turkey December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

The academics are the first group from 148 who are being prosecuted for signing the open letter. They are accused of insulting the Turkish government and carrying out propaganda for a terrorist group.

In total, 1,128 academics from Turkey and abroad, including philosopher and activist Noam Chomsky, signed the January 2016 letter, titled “We will not a be party to this crime!”

It called for an end to violence in Kurdish-majority towns in eastern Turkey, which escalated after the collapse in 2015 of a ceasefire between the Turkish government and the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

In the letter, published a few months after the violence erupted, they said the Turkish state was condemning residents in the mainly Kurdish southeastern provinces “to hunger through its use of curfews that have been ongoing for weeks”.

It also accused authorities of deploying heavy weapons that should only be used in war. “We demand the government to prepare the conditions for negotiations and create a road map that would lead to a lasting peace which includes the demands of the Kurdish political movement,” it said.

Tuesday’s hearing, against six academics from Galatasaray University and four from Istanbul University, was adjourned to April 12 after the court rejected the lawyers’ submission that the letter was a criticism of the government, not an insult.

Criticizing the government is not punishable under Turkey’s penal code, while insulting it is.

“It is obvious, from a legal standpoint, that there is no crime here, but, politically, (the authorities) want to turn it into something else,” a defense lawyer for three academics from Istanbul University told Reuters.

The PKK took up arms in 1984 and more than 40,000 people have died in the conflict since then. The group is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

The academics published their letter six months before last year’s failed military coup. Since then, thousands of academics have been fired for alleged links to terrorist organizations. Some academics say Turkey’s progress in academia in recent years is now in jeopardy.

Rights groups accuse President Tayyip Erdogan of using a state of emergency declared after the coup to quash political dissent.

Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans and Peter Graff

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