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Conviction upheld for Turkish scientist opposing headscarves

Posted on behalf of Michele Catanzaro.

A Turkish astrophysicist faces two years of jail for forbidding access to a university building to a student wearing a headscarf. On Thursday, Ankara’s Supreme Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s verdict against Esat Rennan Pekünlü, an astronomer at Ege University in Izmir.

Pekünlü was first sentenced in September 2012, after student Fatma Nur Gidal accused him of violating her right to education by barring her access to the university building. She also said he had violated her right to privacy, by taking pictures of her and other students who were wearing headscarves on campus. Pekünlü was fined by Ege University, and after the first conviction, four more students filed similar complaints about him.

A group of eight academic organizations released a statement in support of Pekünlü, raising concerns about the fairness of the trial and framing it as an attack against secular academicians. They wrote that his case should have been handled by an administrative rather than a criminal court. Moreover, Pekünlü cannot avoid prison by paying a fine, since he has been sentenced to 25 months of jail. Under Turkish law, sentences of up to 24 months can be avoided by paying a fine.

In 2010, Turkey’s Higher Education Board ordered university administrations to lift a ban on headscarves on university campuses, although Turkish law still forbids the display of religious symbols on the premises of government institutions.


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