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Sunday, June 19, 2011     FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

Critics charge Turkey's government infringing
on academic, artistic freedoms

ANKARA — Turkey has launched a crackdown on university projects that do not meet Islamic standards.


University professors have accused the government of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan of blocking academic freedom at the nation's institutions of higher education. They said Erdogan, re-elected on June 12, has ordered the Interior Ministry and security forces to raid universities suspected of un-Islamic behavior.

"Erdogan is turning out the light — not all at once, but very slowly," Bedri Baykam, a leading Turkish artist, said. "He is dimming it until one day it will be completely dark."

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In January, Turkish security forces raided Istanbul's Bilgi University amid reports that a student had produced a pornographic film for his dissertation. At least three university lecturers were dismissed amid pressure by Turkish prosecutors, Middle East Newsline reported.

Critics said Erdogan has launched a crackdown on university freedom as well as the arts. In a recent visit to the Armenian border, the prime minister called for the destruction of a monument that depicted friendship between Ankara and Yerevan.

So far, authorities have not released any evidence that the student film was pornographic. The 53-year-old Baykam said this marked the latest evidence of official harassment of non-Islamic university professors and students.

"Our government is trying, step by step, to turn our community inside out," Baykam told the German weekly Der Spiegel. "Professors are being intimidated, and university rectors are being brought into line ideologically. Things that ostensibly do not fit with Islam are being eradicated."

The government this year also moved to restrict alcohol sales and consumption. Erdogan has maintained that the new regulations were meant to protect youngsters from alcohol.

"I might have a certain attitude against alcohol in my personal life and within my family," Erdogan told a business group on Jan. 20.

"But as we are democratic, in addition to conservative, we are very sensitive about not imposing our personal judgments on society."

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