Turkish court acquits academic over 'terrorist propaganda'

Smoke rising after clashes between PKK and soldiers in Diyarbakir

An Ankara court on Wednesday acquitted a university lecturer over an exam question on a jailed Kurdish rebel chief, in a case that raised fresh alarm over freedom of expression in Turkey.
Prosecutors had accused Ankara University academic Resat Baris Unlu of "terrorist propoganda" after he set students a question comparing two documents written by outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan.
The exam question was set in January 2015 at the end of a course on Turkish politics and institutions.
When the trial opened on Wednesday, Unlu was faced with two separate charges of spreading "terrorist propaganda" and "praising the crime and the criminal" -- charges which carry a maximum of seven years in prison.
But the 90 minute hearing ended in an acquittal, with the court ruling that the exam question and the subject taught in the course did not constitute any such crime, Unlu told AFP by phone.
Describing the case as a "blow to academic freedom", he said the aim was to "deter academics from raising political taboos such as the Kurdish problem."
"It's a kind of an ultimatum not to raise politically-sensitive issues," the academic said.
"I've also lost a whole year dealing with court procedures, whereas I could have spent that time on academic research."
Opposition lawmarkers from the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) were present at the hearing in a show of solidarity.
In the paper, he asked students to "compare Abdullah Ocalan's 1978 manifesto entitled 'The Path of the Kurdistan Revolution' and an article he wrote in 2012 called 'Democratic Modernity as the Construction of Local System in the Middle East'".
- 'Targeted for speaking truth' -
There have been growing concerns over freedom of expression in Turkey since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002.
In recent months, two senior opposition journalists from the Cumhuriyet newspaper have been arrested and prosecutors have opened a major probe into more than 1,200 academics who signed a petition criticising the ongoing military offensive against the PKK.
"Political pressure, insults and threats are reminiscent of fascism beyond authoritarianism," said Unlu, who also signed the petition and warned the pressure would likely last for years.
"There is no longer free press, no independent judiciary in Turkey. Only a few universities are speaking the truth," he said.
"They will remain a target for the government just because they keep speaking the truth."
Visiting Istanbul last month, US Vice President Joe Biden sharply criticised Turkey for failing to set the right "example" on freedom of expression, saying journalists were being "intimidated or imprisoned for critical reporting" in a rebuke of rare vehemence for a key NATO ally of Washington.