November 18, 2005 Special Dispatch No. 1025

Professor from Van University in Turkey Commits Suicide After Five Months in Jail Without Trial; Follow-up to MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1014 of November 1, 2005

November 18, 2005
Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 1025

On November 14, 2005, Deputy Secretary General Enver Arpali of Yuzuncu Yil University (YYU) in Van, who had been imprisoned without trial for over four months, committed suicide in the cell in which he was being held together with Van University President Prof. Askin and three others on suspicion of administrative corruption and organizational crimes.

Extensive coverage by the Turkish media provided the following information: Ten requests for release by Prof. Arpali's attorney had been rejected. Prof. Askin, who discovered Prof. Arpali's body, was hospitalized after suffering a heart attack. Two days after Prof. Arpali's suicide, the office of the Van District Attorney filed the case against Prof. Askin, while the case against Prof. Arpali was dropped.

The following are excerpts from articles in the Turkish press on this issue.

"A Legal Murder"

Columnist Emin Colasan of the mainstream, high-circulation Turkish daily Hurriyet wrote:[1]

"The catastrophe in Van is a tragedy for humanity and for the Turkish judiciary. They incarcerated a public servant four months ago, without indicting him and bringing him to trial. [...] Is this a legal murder? This question should be answered by the Van judiciary, Justice Minister Cicek, the press, and TV [channels] close to the AK Party that have for months portrayed these two men as 'thieves.'

"The [new] Turkish law allows a maximum of four days of detention [without trial] even for the worst murderers, drug smugglers, rapists, and terrorists. Enver Arpali was kept in detention for over four months with no progress made in his case... so he killed himself.

"The Van prosecutor held a press conference on the subject and divulged secret information; […] the Law was trampled."

"Shame on Them"

The centrist, secular Turkish daily Aksam reported some of the reactions in the Turkish academic world:[2]

"Former president of the Higher Education Council [YOK] Kemal Guruz: Those who remain silent in the face of these events should be held morally responsible. Shame on them.

"Prof. Ayhan Alkis, former president of Yildiz Technical University: This event shows that there is pressure [of intimidation] on the judiciary."

"Prof. Mustafa Yurtkuran, president of Uludag University: Those who are silent must be ashamed of themselves."

"Prof. Turkan Saylan, member of the Higher Education Council [YOK]: This is an international scandal. These incarcerations violate Article 5 of the Human Rights Charter. This is an execution without trial. I call upon the legal community of the Turkish Republic to eradicate this shameful stain."

MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1014

The following is the introduction to "The AKP Government's Attempt to Move Turkey From Secularism to Islamism (Part I): The Clash With Turkey's Universities," of November 1, 2005. To read the full article, visit: The AKP Government's Attempt to Move Turkey From Secularism to Islamism (Part I): The Clash With Turkey's Universities.

Since the ascension to power of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's AK Party [3] in 2002, there has been a rift between the government and Turkey's Higher Education Council (YOK) on various issues.

Prior to the 2002 election, the AKP promised its Islamic electorate that it would end the ban on Islamic headscarves in the universities, and that the graduates of Turkey's Imam Hatip religious schools would be accepted into the universities.

However, once in office, the ruling AKP could not deliver on these promises to its religious base, mainly because of the strong opposition on the part of Turkey's strictly secular Higher Education Council that governs the policies of Turkey's state universities. The conflict deepened with the recent arrest and incarceration of the president of Yuzuncu Yil University (YYU) in Van, Professor Yucel Askin, for alleged procedural misconduct.[4] The Turkish media is suggesting that Prof. Askin's incarceration was an attempt by the Islamic government to remove a secular republican president from a university that was known, until he took office in 1999, as a hotbed for Islamists.[5] During his tenure, Prof. Askin put an end to the activities of various Islamic extremists at the university.

All Turkey's university presidents, as well as the Higher Education Council and members of the Turkish Bar Associations, strongly protested Prof. Askin's arrest, and claimed that Turkey's judiciary system was being manipulated by the government. On October 22, 2005, 74 presidents and vice-presidents of Turkish universities flew to Van to visit Prof. Askin in prison, in a show of solidarity, and held a meeting at YYU. A declaration by the Board of Presidents of YOK read: "Defending President Askin means defending our Republic." Higher Education Council head Professor E. Tezic and the 74 presidents were met by a number of protesters in Van, who shouted "Allahu Akbar."

Soon after their visit to Van, President of the Turkish Republic Ahmet N. Sezer invited all the university presidents to his October 29 Republic Day Reception, further angering Prime Minister Erdogan, who earlier had said about the solidarity visit, "Those who go to Van [i.e. the university presidents] should mind their own businesses and not interfere with legal matters."

The case of the YYU in Van has once again brought into question academic freedom, the independence of the judiciary, and the rule of law in Turkey.

[1] Hurriyet (Turkey), November 15, 2005.

[2] Aksam (Turkey), November 14, 2005.

[3] AKP - Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (Justice and Development Party); the ruling party in Turkey since 2002.

[4] The alleged misconduct is related to the $25 million purchase of medical equipment for the university's Faculty of Medicine. The tender process for this purchase was underway before Prof. Askin took office as president.

[5] It was at Van University, which was nicknamed "the Hizbullah university," that a student by the name of Sirin Tekin was stabbed to death in May 1987 for not fasting during Ramadan.

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