On July 26, Gursel Duzenli, a popular professor of engineering at Sakarya University, was eating at his home in Turkey with his wife and three children. Suddenly, a swarm of police officers flooded the house. For four hours they searched the house and garden for evidence of contact with the organization of Fethullah Gullen, a Turkish religious and political figure living in exile in the United States who Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses of orchestrating the failed coup d'etat on July 15.
After finding nothing of interest, the police confiscated all electronic devices belonging to the family, including the children's iPads. They detained Duzenli but assured his wife that he would return home shortly and would be able to communicate with her by phone while in police custody.
None of that turned out to be true.
Duzenli was kept in a prison cell of the local police precinct for eight days. He was insulted by the officers and denied access to cold water despite scorching summer heat. On the ninth day at midnight, Duzenli was brought to the courthouse and officially arrested. According to his lawyer, the judge never read Duzenli's file and did not ask any questions.
After spending 26 days in a local prison, Duzenli was sent to another prison far from home. The state-run local news agency said that he, together with 24 colleagues from Sakarya University, supported the coup d'etat. However, neither Duzenli or his lawyer had been presented with any evidence of his connection to the failed coup. In the meantime, his university position has been terminated, leaving his family with no food on the table.
According to data collected by the Committee of Concerned Scientists, the imprisonment of Duzenli and his colleagues at Sakarya University represent the tip of the iceberg. By a conservative estimate, between 4,000 and 5,000 academics, and more than 1,000 administrative staff, have been dismissed from university positions throughout Turkey following the failed coup. Hundreds have been arrested. Among them are officers of TUBITAK, a government agency that provides funds for scientific research.
In many instances, entire universities have been closed. As the criminal investigation continues, all university professors have been banned from travel abroad. Fear of arrest or dismissal settled deeply in their minds, and many have cut their contacts with the outside world.
Among the imprisoned academics is a U.S. citizen, NASA scientist Serkan Golge. The details of his arrest during family vacation in the Turkish Hatay province in July resemble a story from a Kafka novel.
A one-dollar bill found in his possession at the time of his arrest was presented to the judge as incriminating evidence against Golge. According to the arresting officers, the serial number of the bill represents Golge's place in the hierarchy of Gullen's organization. Since his arrest, Golge has been held in Iskenderun prison with no access to an attorney. The U.S. Embassy in Istanbul is aware of the situation.
While arrests and dismissals by the thousands took place in response to the failed coup on July 15, the crackdown on academia started last January, after 2,000 university professors signed a petition protesting Turkish military operations in the Kurdish southeast that resulted in civilian deaths. This was when Erdogan's government realized it was not on the same page with Turkish academia. At the time, more than 700 academics were dismissed or demoted and a few stood trial. Clearly, it wasn't enough for the government.
The events of July 15 have been used to justify the unprecedented purge of academia that followed. After the failed coup d'etat, the protests inside Turkey have been muted as people are afraid of speaking their mind. Turkish independent newspapers have been closed, their editorial staffs arrested.
Equally mute has been the U.S. response to the internal atrocities of its NATO ally that is also a key ally in the fight against the Islamic State. Meanwhile, Turkey wants to bring back the death penalty that it abolished in 2004, and is constructing detention facilities for tens of thousands of its newly arrested citizens.
Eugene Chudnovsky is a distinguished professor of physics at the City University of New York and co-chair of the Committee of Concerned Scientists. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.