A Turkish court imposed a suspended 15-month jail sentence last month on professor Atilla Yayla for insulting Ataturk, modern Turkey's founder, in a case likely to draw European Union criticism.
The recent conviction of Turkish political science professor Atilla Yayla on charges of insulting the late founder of modern Turkey is a chilling statement on academic freedom in that country, CAUT warns.
Yayla, who was charged with the offence in 2006 and dismissed from his academic post at Ankara’s Gazi University, received a 15-month suspended jail sentence on Jan. 28 after he questioned some of the policies of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the man who established secular Turkey and was its first president. Insulting Ataturk’s memory is a crime in Turkey.
Yayla, 50, heads the Association for Liberal Thinking, an organization that lobbies for freedoms and liberal economic policy, and is the author of numerous books and articles on terrorism, liberalism and social justice. He has since been reinstated in his teaching position at the university, but says his trial highlights the limits on free speech and academic debate in Turkey.
CAUT, in a letter
to Turkey’s minister of justice, urged the government to reverse the conviction.
“The arrest and sentencing of Professor Yayla represents a gross violation of his academic freedom and is in contravention of international standards protecting the right to freedom of expression,” the letter said. “We urge you, without delay, to vacate the court’s decision and permit Professor Yayla to freely pursue his academic work and exercise his right to freedom of expression.”
Yayla, who denied the charge of insulting Ataturk, says the sentence means he will be followed by authorities and his behaviour monitored for two years. He also fears that student spies will monitor every lecture he delivers and says such tactics are chilling to other teachers who will think twice before exercising their right to academic freedom. He said about 40 Turkish laws infringe on freedom of expression.
Turkey is currently seeking to join the European Union, but is attracting criticism over its human rights record. Dozens of Turkish writers and intellectuals, including novelist and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, have been prosecuted under similar laws to the one used against Yayla.
Some laws ban “insulting Turkishness
,” while others criminalize acts that “insult or belittle
” various state institutions.
Although he died in 1938, Ataturk retains iconic status in Turkey and his portrait hangs in all government offices.