MESA Academic Freedom Award
Tutuklu Öğrencilerle Dayanışma İnisiyatifi (TÖDİ) (The Initiative for Solidarity with Detained Students)
As in previous years, CAF considered a number of cases worthy of our annual academic freedom award. Before announcing this year’s awardee, we would like to highlight once again the ongoing struggle of many of the same faculty, staff, and students in Bahrain whose determination and courage in the face of continuing state repression we recognized last year. We salute them.
This year, however, we have been increasingly concerned with the growing number of violations of academic freedom in Turkey. To highlight the deteriorating situation in the country, CAFMENA would like to recognize The Initiative for Solidarity with Detained Students / Tutuklu Öğrencilerle Dayanışma İnisiyatifi (TÖDİ). TÖDİ is an organization that was created for the purpose of offering support, legal assistance and advocacy on behalf of the hundreds of students (both undergraduate and graduate) who have been arrested by the Turkish government on the basis of their academic research or exercise of their rights of free speech and association. TÖDİ is composed of volunteer lawyers, members of students’ families and other professionals who are working together to demand that the government respect rights of academic freedom and the panoply of other human rights under threat as a result of the widespread and arbitrary detention of students.
TÖDİ’s work has also helped document the ways in which rights of expression and association are under attack in Turkey’s academic institutions. It recently prepared a long report detailing the circumstances of the undergraduate and graduate students in detention. The report also shows that beyond the rights violations associated with arrest, detention and even prison sentences, students’ basic right to education is being undermined with the government resorting to expulsions from university, disciplinary investigations for political activities, lengthy suspensions, and denial of access to end-of-semester final examinations. TÖDİ 's work also helps unravel open discrimination in admissions practices, particularly against Kurdish students.
We consider this an important moment to draw attention to the attacks on academic freedom in Turkey because they have gone largely unreported but also because they are inconsistent with the wider narrative that describes Turkey as a “model” for democratization initiatives in the region. To highlight its hard and important work in the context of the very difficult conditions that advocates of academic freedom are being forced to confront in Turkey today, CAFMENA is honored to recognize TÖDİ with its academic freedom award for 2012.