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Turkish court acquits British academic who signed peace petition

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An İstanbul high criminal court on Thursday ruled to acquit British academic Chris Stephenson, who was tried for allegedly spreading terrorist propaganda due to his signature on a petition that called for a peaceful resolution to the country’s Kurdish conflict, Deutsche Welle Turkish service reported.

Stephenson was the 38th academic to be acquitted in the cases related to the peace petition.

“And acquittal … Heartfelt thanks to everyone who acted in solidarity. I hope the same outcome for everyone unfairly prosecuted,” he tweeted.

Stephenson has lived in Turkey for nearly 30 years and has been teaching computer sciences at İstanbul Bilgi University for about two decades.

He came to prominence in early 2016 after joining the so-called Academics for Peace initiative, a group of more than 1,000 Turkish-based academics who published a petition accusing the Turkish government of carrying out heavy-handed operations in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeastern region, where the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish security forces had been engaged in clashes since the breakdown of a ceasefire between the two sides in the summer of 2015.

Subsequently, the number of signatories surpassed 2,000 with the participation of intellectuals from both inside and outside Turkey.

The declaration frustrated President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, leading to retribution against the academics, such as removal from their jobs at universities and facing terrorism-related charges at courts.

Stephenson was briefly detained in March 2017 at a courthouse in İstanbul where he had gone to support three colleagues facing similar charges. A prosecutor’s attempt to have him deported from the country failed after a court denied the request.

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