A matter of academic freedom

August 27, 2014

Ali Ekber Doğan, a Turkish scholar of urban ecology and political science, has been charged with libel for criticizing a local political leader and his municipal policies. Doğan's colleagues, also active in social and ecological struggles in Turkey, are calling on fellow scholars and students to sign a petition demanding that the indictment be dropped in the name of academic freedom and freedom of research.

ALI EKBER DOGAN, an associate professor in the Department of Public Administration (Field of City and Environmental Sciences) at Mersin University, has shared his views--which were the outcome of his scientific observations--with the press about the municipal policies of the former mayor of Tarsus, recently elected as the mayor of the Mersin Metropolitan Municipality.

Doğan has criticized the mayor's approach to municipalism in Tarsus, stating that "he does not protect the historical heritage of the city," which as a result "restrains social life and limits the public sphere." Doğan emphasized that such an approach would have the same effects and damage the cosmopolitan and pluralistic character and nature of the city of Mersin.

Doğan's criticisms are scientifically grounded, and his warnings should be viewed as a "defense of the city," which should be appreciated by an elected mayor in any democratic country.

First and foremost, academic freedom requires the freedom of research and, in this context, includes the freedom to make use of that research and make statements about it--the freedom of information, learning and dissemination.

Ali Ekber Doğan
Ali Ekber Doğan

According to European Court of Human Rights verdicts, it is an established principle, both in European and Turkish jurisprudence, that the limits to critiques of politicians are far more extensive than that of private persons. The reason for this principle is that politicians make a deliberate decision to become public figures and are then subject to monitoring by other politicians, journalists, and the public. Thus, criticizing a mayor's practices should be seen as a part of academic and scientific freedom, as well as freedom of expression.

We find the indictment against Doğan, which claims that his scientific critiques are libelous, unacceptable. The approval of the indictment in question and the opening of a court case is a real scandal in terms of scientific and academic freedom and freedom of expression. This case is, without doubt, a threat to scholars who feel the responsibility and set themselves the task of expounding social reality through critical reason.

We reject this indictment and court case, not only on the basis of scientific and legal reasons, but also on the basis of morality and matters of conscience.

We call on the Higher Education Council, Ministry of Justice and High Council of Judges and Prosecutors to take action, and we denounce this indictment to the authorities. The court case against Doğan should be withdrawn before it starts. The trial itself, if it takes place, will definitely be a violation of the freedom of expression.

We, the signatories of this declaration, declare that we will stand alongside Ali Ekber Doğan in this disgraceful trial, which will take place on September 16, in Mersin Court; we will defend academic freedom and freedom of expression; and we ask everyone to defend Ali Ekber Doğan and to stand in solidarity with him for this trial.

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