Philosophy Professor To Stand Trial in Turkey (Updated with Statement from Professor Öymen and Additional News)

The Associated Press reports:

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A philosophy professor says he will stand trial next week on charges of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for suggesting in an article that the Turkish leader should go on trial over a range of claims, including alleged corruption and the violation of the constitution.

Orsan Oymen said Wednesday he faces up to four years in prison for the article published in the opposition Aydinlik newspaper in April. The trial is set for Feb. 4.

Hundreds of people — including celebrities, journalists and high-school students — are being prosecuted under a previously seldom-used law that bars insults to the president. Free speech advocates say Erdogan is aggressively using the law to muffle dissent.

Oymen denies insulting Erdogan saying the president is “unable to distinguish strong criticism from an insult.”


Örsan Öymen is a professor at Işık University. (Previous coverage of the situation in Turkey here and here.)


UPDATE (1/28/16): Professor Öymen has released the following statement (thanks to Karen Nielsen, who forwarded it here):

January 28, 2016

The President of the Republic of Turkey, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, brought a lawsuit against me, for an article I wrote and published in a newspaper. Mr. Erdogan claimed that I have “insulted” the President and demands a 1 to 4 years prison sentence for me, based on the Turkish Penal Code item 299.

The newspaper article of mine titled “Erdogan’ın Yargılanması” (“Erdogan Standing Trial”) published at the daily national Aydınlık Newspaper on April 9, 2015 includes no expressions of an insult. It is an article which criticizes some of Mr. Erdogan’s policies and expresses the idea that Mr. Erdogan needs to stand trial for the accusations and claims about him. The accusations and claims expressed in my article are accusations and claims which were already published numerous times in the media before and were also publicly expressed by opposition politicians, particularly the main opposition party CHP.

I did use the term “claim” in my article for those accusations. They can be summarized as follows: the violation of the constitution; disregarding the rule of law, separation of powers, freedom of expression and the press; conducting a civilian coup against the democratic and secular regime; organizing pseudo law suits with false accusations and arresting innocent academicians, writers, journalists, politicians and army members; ordering police violence against protestors at the “Gezi” events which resulted in the death of many citizens; conducting illegal negotiations with the terrorist organization PKK; supporting Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups in Syria and conducting a coup against the regime of Syria; being involved in domestic corruption cases and covering them up. Furthermore I also expressed the idea that, Mr. Erdogan needs to stand trial for justice so the public can know whether he is guilty or not.

It is clear that Mr. Erdogan, by this act against me, is once again, unable to distinguish strong criticism from an insult. Mr. Erdogan perceives criticism against him as an insult which is a sign that he has no tolerance for criticism.

It is clear that the 299. item of the Turkish Penal Code is an undemocratic one. No citizen can be put into prison even for insulting the President. Insult can be a subject of other types of legal punishment but not a prison sentence. As a matter of fact, before Erdogan came to power, this item in the Turkish Penal Code was rarely implemented and put into force. It is clear that Mr. Erdogan is misusing this law in order to oppress his opponents and critics.

However, one of the main points here is that, in my article, there is not even an expression which can be regarded as an insult. To perceive the statement, “The President needs to stand trial for the claims / accusations against him”, as an insult, can not be accepted in a democratic country in which people are free to express themselves. My article was written in the framework of the freedom of expression and the press which is also guarranteed by the Turkish Constitution and Turkish law regarding the media. This law suit conducted against me by Mr. Erdogan is a clear violation of the Turkish Constitution, of the previous decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and of the freedom of expression and the press. As a matter of fact, the Chief Office of the Istanbul Public Prosecutor (İstanbul Cumhuriyet Bassavcılıgı) dismissed Mr. Erdogan’s claims and demands against me, stating in its official decision that my newspaper article was written in accordance with the freedom of expression and the press and that there is no indication of an insult and that there is no legal justificiation for me to stand trial. However, Mr. Erdogan’s lawyers opposed the decision of the Prosecutor and took the case to an upper court (İstanbul 1. Sulh Ceza Hakimligi) which decided that “there is an insult against the President” and that I need to stand trial. The judge who gave this decision is the very same judge (Mr. Bekir Altun) who made previous decisions to freeze and block access to social media sites such as Twitter, You Tube and Facebook which were used to criticize Mr. Erdogan and the AKP government.

My first trial will be on February 4, 2016 in Istanbul (2. Asliye Ceza Mahkemesi). It is an ironic coincidence that one day after the trial I will be giving a talk at a Philosophy Symposium in Assos, Canakkale on Freedom and Justice. The dates and theme of this Symposium which I organize annually since 16 years were fixed (but not announced on the web site of the event before I received the official notification about my trial date.

You may obtain further legal information and documentation from my lawyer Mr. Turgut Kazan, former President of the Istanbul Bar Association and a leading human rights activist in Turkey (telephone: 90-212-2444049; e-mail: [email protected]) and the copy of my newspaper article at the archives of Aydınlık Newspaper (


Professor Örsan Kunter Öymen

Isık University / Feyziye Mektepleri Foundation, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences Chairman

Associaton of Philosophy, Art & Science, Founder & President

Philosophy in Assos, Founder & Director

UPDATE 2 (1/28/16): Readers may be interested in a Turkish court’s reasoning in a case in which defendant Yannis Vasilis Yaylalı, a conscientious objector to Turkey’s military conscription, was prosecuted for “alienating the people from military service” for his writings against the obligatory military service. According to a post at We Need To Talk About Turkey, the court claimed that Yaylalı’s statements are not protected by freedom of thought because they are not thoughts:

“The defendant does have some knowledge regarding what conscientious objection is, but he has not produced any statements regarding how the public order and national order will be established after the army is abolished. Because of this, it is understood that the defendant’s act is not in line with the system of thesis-antithesis-synthesis and the criminal act consists merely of raw information. Statements that are put forward relying on raw information cannot be regarded as ideas or thoughts [and therefore they are out of the scope of the principle of freedom of thought guaranteed by the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights.]” (source: BirGün)

(via Işık Sarıhan)

UPDATE 3 (1/28/16): Andrei Stavilă, a political scientist and theorist at Muğla University, resigned in anticipation of his contract not being renewed, owing to the rather modest political activity of “posting a social media comment expressing his worries regarding academic freedom and the campaign against Academics for Peace, after someone took a screenshot of his comment and and sent it to the rector” (via We Need To Talk About Turkey). He elaborates on what happened to him in an interview here. An excerpt:

On Thursday, the 14th of January Muğla Sıtkı Koçman University’s Rector Prof. Dr. Mansur Harmandar published on the University’s official Facebook page an announcement according to which all professors working in Mugla who supported the ‘Academics for Peace’ initiative will be subjected to administrative and criminal investigation.

Personally I signed neither that letter, nor the ones that followed. I was specifically advised not to do this by one of my colleagues. However, the following day (Friday, 15th of January) I have seen, on one of my Facebook friends’ page (a Romanian professor teaching in the United Kingdom) a letter of support for Turkish academics. In a very short comment I wrote:

“It’s incredible what’s happening in Turkey right now. Many of us (foreigners teaching here), including myself, are seriously thinking to leave asap… and to send private letters to our academic colleagues outside Turkey to support those already in problem here… Turkey has come back to the dark ages, some of us are threatened both by the managers and by the students… Thank you for helping and spreading the word.”…

In less than two hours I have been called by my Head of Department. She was very angry; she asked me why I wrote such a comment and told me that my contract may not be renewed ‘by the YÖK’. I tried to explain her that I have already lived under an appalling communist regime [Romania] and that I am not going to repeat that experience. She angrily closed the phone before having the time to express my astonishment or any explanation.

On Monday, 18th of January, after a lot of thinking, I decided to resign from my position if the situation persists. I called my Head of Department and informed her about my decision. She accepted it immediately: it seemed that the decision had already been taken by the Rector’s office in that morning anyway.

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Chad Kautzer
Chad Kautzer
8 years ago

We are holding a press conference in New York at NYU on Friday. Our open letter of support for Turkish academics is here: We are accepting signatures through this Friday night, before we deliver it to the Turkish Consulate General (Ertan Yalçın) and U.N. representative (Yaşar Halit Çevik) in NYC. If you want to add your name, email [email protected] with your title, name, and institution. We have over 1500 signatures right now. Let’s make it 2,000 before we deliver it.

Monte Johnson
8 years ago

Orsan Oymen is well known to many North American philosophers because of his tireless work in organizing the “Philosophy in Assos” conferences– including last year’s wonderful conference on ataraxia (with about 100 participants from all over the world). We are now about as far from ataraxia as one can get. As someone who has directly benefited from Orsan’s philosophical endeavors and generosity, I am deeply disturbed by this news, and very thankful to Chad Kautzer and others who are acting to protest the situation. Orsan has for many years been devoting a lot of his own resources and time to building bridges between Philosophers in Turkey and outside of Turkey. I have great and growing admiration for him– he is proving himself to be a real and true philosopher.