An Istanbul court on Friday gave suspended jail sentences to three academics for “terror propaganda” after they signed a 2016 petition criticising a military crackdown in the Kurdish-dominated southeast, local media reported.
Over 1,200 academics from 90 Turkish universities calling themselves “Academicians for Peace”, as well as foreign scholars, signed the petition in January 2016 calling for an end to the violence.
Entitled “We won’t be a party to this crime”, the petition called on the Turkish state to halt “its deliberate massacres and deportation of Kurdish and other peoples in the region,” which infuriated President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the time.
The three academics from the University of Istanbul were given a year and three months suspended jail sentences each by the court, Dogan news agency reported, over “making terror propaganda.”
They are the first among over 100 who signed the petition facing similar charges in the courts, according to rights groups.
Amnesty International’s Turkey researcher Andrew Gardner condemned the sentences and said the charges others were facing were “baseless”.
“Another day another scandal from the courts,” Mr. Gardner wrote on Twitter.
Another day another scandal from the courts. 3 academics from Academics for Peace group receive suspended sentences of 1 year 3 months "propaganda for a terrorist organization" for their 2016 Peace Petition. More than 100 others from the group face the same baseless charges.
— Andrew Gardner (@andrewegardner) February 23, 2018
Turkey has come under heavy criticism by the West and human rights activists who say freedom of expression is being eroded by the state.
The petition followed the collapse of a two-year ceasefire with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
Fighting then intensified in the southeast and Turkish authorities also imposed months-long curfews in many areas as part of their operations against the PKK.
The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.
The petition was also signed by dozens of foreign luminaries and intellectuals, among them American linguist Noam Chomsky and the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek.
Academics are among tens of thousands of people either sacked, suspended or taken into custody in Turkey, especially since the July 2016 failed coup.