Human rights defender professor forced to retire due to prison sentence

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Fincancı is seen in his last lecture at the İstanbul University. PHOTO: Bianet

Professor Şebnem Korur Fincancı, the head of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV) and a doctor of forensics, retired from her position at İstanbul University on Wednesday as her conviction in a trial would deprive her of her retirement benefits had she waited.

Fincancı, who has been teaching for 41 years, was sentenced in December to two years, six months in prison for signing a peace petition. The verdict stipulated that she be stripped of her retirement benefits if her sentence is upheld on appeal. As a result, despite the fact that she had seven more years until mandatory retirement, Turkey’s prominent human rights defender and forensic expert was forced to retire early.

Fincancı was one of the signatories of a petition titled “We will not be party to this crime” signed in 2016 by a large number of Turkish academics who called themselves “Academics for Peace” during a period of heavy clashes in Turkey’s Southeast between security forces and militants affiliated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The peace petition demanded a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem and criticized Turkish security forces for their heavy-handed actions that saw citizens confined under long-lasting curfews and areas in predominantly Kurdish cities under bombardment.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had accused the signatories of disseminating propaganda for the PKK. Many of the academics who signed the petition have been removed from their posts at universities, and some of them are standing trial on charges of terrorism.

Fincancı was awarded the Hrant Dink Prize in 2014, the Human Rights Prize by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) in 2017 and the Hessian Peace Prize by the Albert Osswald Foundation last month.

In June 2016 Fincancı was arrested on charges of disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization along with Reporters Without Borders (RSF) representative Erol Önderoğlu and author Ahmet Nesin. The three had joined a solidarity campaign defending the editorial independence of Özgür Gündem, a paper aligned with Turkey’s Kurdish minority.

Fincancı and Önderoğlu were released after 10 days in jail.

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