<By Svein Stølen, Rector of the University of Oslo>
The University of Oslo’s Human Rights Award in 2017 went to Professor Ishtar Gözaydin – Turkish academic, social commentator and human rights defender. Professor Gözaydin has made her mark as an active social commentator and human rights defender. She is an important representative for persecuted academics, in Turkey and other countries.
In 1993, Ishtar Gözaydin founded the Turkish Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly together with well-known intellectuals such as Murat Belge and Orhan Pamuk. This politically independent organization works for peace, democratization, political pluralism, rule of law and sustainable development. She has written articles and books where she focuses on the relationship between religion and politics in Turkey.
Arrested in her home
Professor Gözaydin was arrested in her home on December 19th last year together with several former employees of Gediz University. Like most of the 100 000 people who have been arrested after the attempted coup, she has been charged with “membership in an armed terrorist organization”.
Professor Gözaydin was released in March of this year, but is in danger of being sentenced for supporting terrorism. Her trial starts in January 2018, and Professor Gözaydin is under an international travel ban due to the pending judicial process against her.
Not allowed to leave Turkey
The University of Oslo sent an official letter to President Erdogan and to the Turkish Embassy in Oslo respectfully requesting that Turkish authorities look into the possibility of allowing Professor Gözaydin to travel to Oslo to accept the award, in spite of her travel ban. We did not receive an answer to this request.
It was with regret and concern we learned that Professor Gözaydin would not be allowed to leave Turkey to accept the award. Professor Gözaydin joined us through an internet connection at the ceremony. Many who wished to show their support for the important work of Ishtar Gözaydin and other Turkish academics attended the ceremony.
More scholars at risk
Scholars at Risk introduced their report on academic freedom “Free to think” at the award ceremony. The Free to Think-report compiles information on 257 reported attacks on higher education in 35 countries over the last year.
The Scholars at Risk network continuously collects and disseminates information on threats to higher education in the searchable academic freedom monitor. Scholars at Risk’s report demonstrates the extent to which higher education is often a focal point for violent and coercive attacks and is dangerously exposed under authoritarian regimes and in conflict settings.
In the 2017 report, the situation in Turkey is given particular attention due to the sweeping actions against higher education communities in Turkey by state and higher education officials.
Scholars at Risk urges Turkish authorities to suspend and reverse actions taken against Turkish higher education institutions and personnel, to ensure due process for all who are subject to criminal actions and to implement an effective, transparent means of review for all higher education personnel who have been subject to suspension.
We support academic freedom
The Scholars at Risk Network is doing very important work, and The University of Oslo is supporting the network financially and through work efforts of employees. We host four scholars at risk each year and two to five students at risk. In cooperation with Scholars at Risk, we are developing a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) about academic freedom.
As part of the academic community, the University of Oslo has a responsibility to speak up when the freedom and free speech of academics and students are threatened.