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Academic gets suspended sentence for signing peace petition

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Turkish academic and columnist for the Evrensel daily Esra Arsan on Wednesday was handed down a suspended one year, three-month sentence on charges of disseminating terrorist propaganda by signing a petition asking for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem in Turkey’s southeastern region.

In January 2016, 1,128 Turkish academics calling themselves “Academics for Peace” signed a petition titled “We will not be party to this crime” during a period of heavy fighting in Turkey’s Southeast between the Turkish armed forces and militants affiliated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The number of signatories later exceeded 2,000.

Arsan said in her defense in court that she exercised her right to freedom of expression and did not commit any crime, asking for her acquittal. However, the court ruled for a suspended sentence on charges of disseminating terrorist propaganda.

The peace petition demanded a peaceful solution to Turkey’s Kurdish conflict and criticized security forces for a heavy-handed response that saw citizens confined under long-lasting curfews and areas in predominantly Kurdish cities under bombardment.

In November 2018, 32 Turkish academics who signed the peace petition appeared in criminal court, where the prosecutor demanded that the court sentence them to up to seven-and-a-half years in prison.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has accused the signatories of disseminating propaganda for the PKK. Many of the academics who signed the petition have been removed from their posts at their universities, and 48 had hearings in February in which they were handed down suspended jail sentences.

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