UC Davis pro­fes­sor de­fends free­dom of speech in trial

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - News - BY ELAINE CHEN [email protected]

Fac­ing charges for sign­ing a pe­ti­tion crit­i­ciz­ing the Turk­ish army, UC Davis pro­fes­sor Baki Tez­can stood in front of an Is­tan­bul judge on Thurs­day, de­fend­ing his sig­na­ture and, more broadly, Turk­ish aca­demics’ right to free speech.

“I chose to pur­sue an aca­demic ca­reer, which is based on in­de­pen­dent re­search,” he said in a writ­ten de­fense sub­mit­ted to the judge and sent to me­dia out­lets.

“Be­cause,” he con­tin­ued, “it is a pro­fes­sion that I could prac­tice with­out re­ceiv­ing in­struc­tions from any­one.”

Tez­can, one of more than 2,000 aca­demics who signed a pe­ti­tion in 2016 ac­cus­ing the Turk­ish army of mas­sacring Kur­dish civil­ians in its con­flicts with a Kur­dish ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion, is the lat­est of more than 700 sig­na­to­ries to stand trial over charges of “spread­ing ter­ror­ist pro­pa­ganda.”

In the se­ries of pros­e­cu­tions by the Turk­ish govern­ment, most of which have tar­geted schol­ars who live in Tur­key and Europe, Tez­can is likely the first Turk­ish Amer­i­can charged and the first to stand trial.

At the end of Thurs­day’s trial, which fell on the sec­ond to last day of Tur­key’s ju­di­cial ses­sion, the judge de­cided to post­pone a verdict un­til Oc­to­ber and ex­empt Tez­can from ap­pear­ing in fu­ture court ses­sions.

The judge’s post­pone­ment of a verdict comes as Turk­ish pres­i­dent Tayyip Er­do­gan has re­ceived in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism for at­tempt­ing to quell po­lit­i­cal dissent. It also comes as re­la­tions be­tween Tur­key and the U.S. have in­ten­si­fied: Af­ter Tur­key re­cently be­gan pur­chas­ing Rus­sian weapons, the U.S. announced on Wed­nes­day that it will can­cel the sale of fighter jets to Tur­key.

Tez­can had ar­rived in Is­tan­bul last month to re­sume on­go­ing re­search. But, with an ar­rest war­rant out for him due to his ab­sence from ear­lier tri­als, he was im­me­di­ately sep­a­rated from his fam­ily upon ar­rival and de­tained for ques­tion­ing. On Thurs­day, he re­turned to the court­room, de­liv­er­ing a re­but­tal to his in­dict­ment and an af­fir­ma­tion of aca­demic free­dom.

Tez­can said in an interview that while he could have cho­sen not to pro­vide any re­marks on Thurs­day as he had al­ready an­swered ques­tions when he was de­tained upon ar­riv­ing in Tur­key last month, he “couldn’t re­ally be com­fort­able with pulling back” in the trial.

In his de­fense, Tez­can cited cases in which both the Con­sti­tu­tional Court — Tur­key’s equiv­a­lent of the U.S.’s Supreme Court — and the Euro­pean Court of Hu­man Rights ruled that crit­i­cisms of the Turk­ish govern­ment were not in vi­o­la­tion of the Turk­ish Con­sti­tu­tion or the Euro­pean Con­ven­tion on Hu­man Rights.

The case de­cided by the Turk­ish Con­sti­tu­tional Court con­cerned a teacher who con­demned the Turk­ish army’s con­duct to­ward Kur­dish res­i­dents on live tele­vi­sion. The Turk­ish Con­sti­tu­tional Court ruled against the govern­ment’s charges that the teacher was aid­ing ter­ror­ism.

“State­ments that ad­dress the so­cial and in­di­vid­ual prob­lems as­so­ci­ated with the govern­ment’s le­git­i­mate strug­gle against a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion — even when the state­ments are en­tirely sub­jec­tive — can­not by them­selves be con­sid­ered as ex­pres­sions of thought that make it pos­si­ble to in­form or in­cite those pre­pared to com­mit acts of ter­ror, that in­crease the risk of com­mit­ting these crimes,” the rul­ing said.

Sev­eral cases con­cern­ing the 2016 pe­ti­tion’s sig­na­to­ries are pend­ing in the Turk­ish Con­sti­tu­tional Court. If the Con­sti­tu­tional Court rules to dis­miss those cases, then all cases against the sig­na­to­ries in lower courts — in­clud­ing Tez­can’s — could also be dis­missed.

How­ever, the cur­rent judge over­see­ing Tez­can’s case could make a de­ci­sion be­fore that hap­pens. Most sig­na­to­ries in Tez­can’s sit­u­a­tion have re­ceived a sus­pended judg­ment. This means if they stay out of le­gal trou­ble for five years, their cases will be dropped. Sev­eral have been sen­tenced to im­pris­on­ment.

Tez­can said that though he can’t be sure of what will hap­pen, he is “hope­ful of a good out­come.”

Baki Tez­can

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