More academics acquitted in Turkey, sparking cautious hope

It’s been more than three and a half years since Ali Riza Gungen, an economics professor at 19 Mayis University in Samsun, Turkey, lost his job for signing a petition. He is one of the nearly 800 “Academics for Peace” who have faced charges of making terrorist propaganda for participating in the open letter calling for the end of military operations in southeast Turkey back in January 2016.

Like hundreds of other academics, Gungen was dismissed from his position, banned from working in public institutions and had his passport revoked, barring him from traveling abroad. Following a July ruling by the Constitutional Court, which found that the purged academics‘ freedom of speech had been violated, Gungen was among 27 defendants acquitted of all charges.

“It was a surprise for me because despite the Constitutional Court decision, I know we don’t live in a system adhering to the rule of law,” Gungen told Al-Monitor, saying he learned of his acquittal on Monday.

More acquittals are expected in the coming weeks as judges and prosecutors review ongoing trials. If the rulings stand, hundreds of academics could see their ongoing trials end, while those who have already been convicted could get their sentences overturned. Still, the Istanbul prosecutor’s office could challenge the acquittals.

“It’s not justice, but a temporary relief,” Gungen told Al-Monitor, saying he would follow developments closely. “They have no evidence against me whatsoever and … it’s a kind of torture, slow-motion torture. I might not be in prison, but I can say I have seen hell over the last three and a half years.”

The academics were accused of spreading terrorist propaganda for signing an open letter published on Jan. 10, 2016, titled, “We will not be a party to this crime!” The letter, which had more than 2,000 signatories including such prominent Western peace activists as Noam Chomsky, denounced an ongoing conflict between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers Party, a Kurdish militant group designated as a terror organization by Turkey and the United States.

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