In advocating the globally endorsed Principle of Universality of Science, the International Council for Science (ICSU) also supports scientists whose human rights are violated or who are imprisoned as a result of them conducting scientific work. This is a core activity of its Committee on Freedom and Responsibility in the conduct of Science (CFRS), whose actions are bolstered by a number of international legal texts that proclaim various rights of scientists.
In living up to the Committee’s mission, and within a week before today’s UN Human Rights Day, its Chair attended a court hearing in Turkey against some 200 people, including the scientist Büşra Ersanlı. CFRS had monitored her situation since she was first imprisoned. Ersanlı, a faculty member in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Marmara University in Istanbul, was arrested in October 2011 as part of a crackdown on Kurdish political parties. She was charged with suspected links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Ersanlı was in fact a member of the Assembly of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), and she never advocated violence. Rather, her case and that of other scientists that CFRS considered, seemed to confirm an increased politicisation of science and political pressure on scientists in Turkey, such as Nature and Science suggested at the time and later.
CFRS wrote to the Turkish authorities expressing concern, and asked for her unconditional release on bail or for further information on the causes of her imprisonment. In July 2012, she was released, pending the outcome of the trial. Sydnes met Ersanlı in August 2013 in Istanbul to discuss her case and to confirm the Committee’s continued support. Initially scheduled for late 2013 or early 2014, the trial took place a fortnight ago. Although no final verdict was taken and the court deferred the cases to the Constitutional Court in Ankara, Ersanlı says the presence of Leiv Sydnes in the courtroom as a foreign witness “made a difference.” CFRS will continue to monitor the case of Ersanlı and intervene as appropriate.
See also the interview by the CFRS Chair with the Turkish internet daily Bianet.