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Turkish academics live in fear

Turkish scientists have said that they are increasingly fearful for their future as the government detained another 72 academics last week.

This brings the number of academics imprisoned in the last six weeks to about 550. They are alleged to be sympathisers of Fethullah Gülen, the cleric accused of plotting a coup against prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In total, more than 8,200 academics have lost their jobs since a failed putsch in July 2016, according to Turkey Purge, an online tracker compiled by journalists.

A German-Turkish professor, who spoke to Research Europe on the condition of anonymity, said he felt frightened about his future in Turkey and could not see a positive outcome for academia. “Sometimes in the late hours, the government list of fired academics is presented on the news,” he said. “I dread to look whether my name is written on it, because I don’t feel secure anymore.”

A decade ago Turkey marketed itself as a prime location for research and offered generous funding. But under Erdogan it has become a dangerous place for researchers. The government now controls the higher education board, the research-funding agency and the Turkish Academy of Sciences.

The professor, who was born in Germany, moved to Turkey 10 years ago. He said that he regretted his decision, having undergone a preliminary enquiry—before a judicial probe—for sharing his thoughts about the academic purge on Facebook. He said he was lucky that the authorities liked his answers.

“Before, we could state our views in the university as we had academic freedom,” he said. “But since my inquiry I’m very careful; I write only things about my family because I wouldn’t get a second chance.”

He said that each university has its own “ethics commission” on research, to prevent unethical practices. He told Research Europe that the ethics commission had become increasingly political in the last year. As a result, he and his colleagues have had to change the research methods of final year projects of some undergraduates.

They also have had to rely on theoretical rather than empirical research, especially when touching upon delicate issues such as LGBT rights and minorities, he said. Last year, the government restricted research into the integration and education of Syrian refugees.

The European University Association, which has several Turkish members, said that it continues to receive “worrying reports of governmental interference in internal university affairs”.

This article also appeared in Research Europe