Turkish government on Tuesday began the hugely controversial trial of a group of 'Academics for Peace' charged with terror offences for signing a petition calling for peace in the Kurdish-dominated southeast.
The academics are the first group from 148 who are being prosecuted for signing the open letter, titled "We will not a be party to this crime!". They are accused of insulting the Turkish government and carrying out propaganda for a terrorist group.
Over 1,120 Turkish and also foreign academics signed the petition which emerged in January 2016 calling for an end to the military's crackdown on outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants in the southeast that had begun six months earlier. It called for an end to violence in eastern Turkey, which escalated after the collapse in 2015 of an agreement between the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's AKP government and pro-Kurdish HDP party, PKK.
The first 10, six academics from Galatasaray University and four from İstanbul University, went on trial in İstanbul on Tuesday. Each suspect had a 10-minute hearing at the start of a marathon process expected to continue until at least April. The prosecution has chosen not to stage a mass trial involving all the suspects in the same case. Their next hearings will take place on April 12. Ten more academics will appear in court on Thursday with further sessions scheduled throughout December and January.
Stating that peace is being tried by the Turkish government and the ruling AKP conducts purges against academia through these trials, the Central Committee member of the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP) and soL columnist Aydemir Güler underlined the significance of protecting peace, academia and freedom of science in Turkey.
Noting that the trials of Academics for Peace do not bear a legal basis and that they are completely political trials, Güler said in front of the Courthouse that solidarity with Academics for Peace is so important in order to struggle against this oppression.
Outside the court, people gathered in support of lecturers, brandishing banners with slogans, including: "Don't touch my professor!"
If convicted, the suspects face up to seven-and-a-half years in jail. None of those who went on trial on Tuesday is currently being held behind bars.