St Andrews professor attends Turkish court hearing to supporting academic freedoms

The accused academic had signed a peace petition launched by an organization called Academics for Peace, for which he now faces up to seven years in prison.

Photo: Stephen Reicher

Stephen Reicher, a professor of social psychology at the University of St Andrews, attended a court hearing in Istanbul, Turkey, at the beginning of February as an observer for the International Society for Political Psychology, in support of a fellow academic charged with terrorist propaganda.

The social psychologist in Turkey, who is unnamed in Reicher’s first-hand account, was one of 1128 academics to sign a peace petition launched by an organization called Academics for Peace.

The petition condemned the human rights violations committed by the Turkish government during their ongoing conflict with the Kurds. But now, he faces up to seven years in prison.

Academics for Peace called on the international community for observers to attend the court hearing, in an attempt to hold the Turkish government accountable for its actions.

Following the attempted coup in Turkey during the summer of 2016, the Turkish government has conducted mass arrests of those perceived as opponents in a wide range of professions, including academia.

In Professor Reicher’s personal account, available on the University of St Andrews website, he describes the actions taken by the government against academics having both financial and psychological impacts on them.  

Following President Erdogan’s call on universities to take action against the signatories of the peace petition, many institutions have dismissed members of their staff.

Furthermore, these individuals were barred from working in the public sector, had their passports confiscated, and were denied access to public services.

Professor Reicher explains in his piece that “the whole strategy against those academics who criticized Erdogan is to take their academic identities away and turn them into non-persons.”

According to the accused’s lawyer, the presence of international observers did have an impact on how the court treated them. She told observers, “When you are there, they are much more polite and our voice does get through.”

However, the court rejected the request to dismiss the charges, despite there being no evidence of any connection to terrorist organizations.


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