Turkey arrests 12 academics for condemning attacks on Kurds

Turkish police on Friday detained 12 people who were among more than 1,000 academics who signed a declaration denouncing military operations against Kurdish rebels in southeastern Turkey, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported. The move deepens concerns about freedom of expression under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rule.

The 12 are lecturers at Kocaeli University in northwestern Turkey, Anadolu reported. Police were still processing the paperwork for nine other academics at the university who also face arrest.

Prosecutors on Thursday launched an investigation into the academics over possible charges of insulting the state and engaging in “terrorist propaganda” on behalf of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. The move came after Erdogan severely criticized the signatories, including linguist Noam Chomsky, and called on the judiciary to act against the “treachery.”

In the declaration, more than 1,000 academics from Turkey and abroad called on Turkey to halt “massacres” and said the signatories refused to be “a party to the crime.”

It was in reference to military operations against Kurdish militants in neighborhoods and towns in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast where the government has imposed extended curfews. Those militants, who are linked to the PKK, have mounted barricades, dug trenches and set up explosives to keep authorities away. The operations have resulted in more than 100 civilian casualties and displaced thousands, human rights groups say.

The academics also called for the resumption of peace efforts with the rebels.

Erdogan said the academicians’ declaration was biased against the state, used the same language used by “terrorists” and did not speak out against the rebel violence.

The PKK, considered a terrorist organization by Turkey and its western allies, has waged a more than 30-year separatist battle in southeastern Turkey. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people.

The Dogan news agency reported Thursday that Duzce University in northwestern Turkey fired a sociology lecturer for signing the declaration.

While Turkey is a member of the coalition fighting ISIS, it has been accused of prioritizing attacks on Kurdish targets.