NTEU president addresses Kurdish protest rally

download[The following speech was delivered to a Kurdish protest rally in Melbourne on September 17 by Jeannie Rea, National President of the National Tertiary Education Union.]

I wish to begin by acknowledging that we are rallying on Aboriginal land and pay my respects to the elders past and present, as well as emerging leaders. I bring you greetings of solidarity from the National Tertiary Education Union who are unwavering in our support for academic freedom and freedom of speech and political opinion.

Along with higher education workers worldwide we were outraged at the crackdown on the 2000 Turkish academics who signed the peace petition entitled “We will not be party to this crime” back in January calling for an end to the persecution of the Kurdish people by the Turkish state.

We have been protesting their arrests, suspensions and forced resignations.

We reject the labelling of the academics as “supporters of terrorism”, along with other critics of the Governments including journalists, teachers and public servants who express views contrary to the government and the ruling class in a state that claimed to be a democracy.

We condemn the outrageous attempts to associate the Academics for Peace and unionists including those of the Education and Science Workers Union and indeed thousands of teachers and higher education academics and administrators with the attempted coup in July.

Education unions worldwide recognise that this is merely an excuse to increase the crackdown on dissent.

Education International, which is the global federation of education unions and 32 million strong, called upon Turkish authorities to observe the rule of law and uphold the democratic values of Turkish society.

General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen said that the education ‘purge’ is only the latest action taken by the government to muzzle its critics since the attempted coup last week. The fallout the chaos that followed has resulted in thousands of arrests and more than 200 deaths and the suspension of over 15,000 education staff and the licences of 21,000 teachers employed at private schools revoked.

“Education International will not stand silent as our profession is targeted in what amounts to a ‘witch hunt,” said van Leeuwen. “Although our organisation firmly rejects the attempted coup, we demand that the government of Turkey shows that democracy is the only answer to the unlawful actions of the military rather than justify what amounts to an abolition of citizen’s rights.”

Scholars at Risk, the international network dedicated to protecting scholars and the freedom to think, question and share ideas and to which NTEU is affiliated has reported that forced the resignations, suspensions, detentions, and travel bans have reportedly affected thousands of individuals, in Turkey and abroad, and “threaten the future of higher education in Turkey”.

The suspension of 1500 Faculty Deans has a chilling impact not only on those involved but also sends the message to remaining staff and students that dissenting voices will be silenced.

An unprecedented number of Turkey’s scholars are facing threats to their careers, well-being, and constitutional right to academic freedom. Scholars at Risk has received over 30 applications from scholars from Turkey for assistance in relocation just after July 15th, more than they received in the first 15 years of SAR’s existence.

SAR said, “We are particularly concerned that the scale and speed of these actions suggest a lack of due process or evidence-based response to the attempted coup of July 15th. Rather, these suggest a broad campaign against intellectuals and intellectual expression, in violation of Turkey’s international and domestic legal obligations to protect institutional autonomy and academic freedom, including under Turkey’s constitution. If not quickly reversed, these actions risk irreparable harm to higher education personnel and to the reputation and operation of Turkey’s higher education sector, which had been suffering already in recent months from prosecutions and undue pressures on over 2000 academics.

These actions against the higher education sector, moreover, are counterproductive to the legitimacy and long-term stability of the state. The asking of questions and expression of ideas—especially disputed or unpopular ideas—is not only essential to quality higher education; it is the root of democratic legitimacy and rule of law. The higher education sector has a special responsibility within democratic society to ask and debate questions in a safe space, without resorting to force, and to impart information and ideas to the public. This ensures that sensitive issues may be more widely understood, and affords the public a means of forming opinions based on evidence and reason over passion, prejudice, ideology or even threats of violence. This in turn encourages public investment in democratic discourse and processes; an investment which proved so essential in the resistance to the July 15th coup attempt. It is precisely at this moment of instability when society needs more space for open, democratic discussion. If the university space shrinks — and it certainly will if the current pressures continue — the risks to Turkey’s democracy will only grow”.

The NTEU strongly supports this view and emphasises that the role of universities and intellectuals as critics and conscience of society should not be underestimated.

We are appalled at the latest news that more than forty of the academics who signed the Academics for Peace petition have now been deemed “supporters of terrorism”, dismissed and banned from the public service along with thousands of teachers and public servants. This State of Emergency decree is a serious violation of their basic human rights to fair trial and due process. Dismissed under the conditions of state of emergency, they will neither be able to appeal the decision nor work ever again in the public sector and their passports have been revoked.

The NTEU will continue to protest and to work with higher education workers and our unions locally and internationally for the reinstatement of the Turkish workers, dropping of charges and an end to harassment and persecution.

Thank you.