Chris Stephenson, socialist activist and lecturer at Istanbul’s Bilgi university, has been charged with possessing “propaganda for a terrorist organisation.”
His trial starts on 23 June. The charge is serious and could result in a long prison sentence.
Chris was central to organising one of the first trade union branches at a private university in the country. He has held various elected positions in Turkey’s DiSK trade union federation.
On 15 March he attended a court hearing for activists charged for signing an Academics for Peace statement calling on the Turkish state to stop its brutal war against the Kurdish national movement.
Over 1400 academics signed the statement, including Chris and international figures likeTariq Ali, Slavoj Zizek, Noam Chomsky, Judith Butler, Alex Callinicos and David Harvey.
As Chris entered the court he was searched by police, who found invitations to a Newroz (Kurdish New Year) celebration in his bag.
The leaflets had been printed by the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which is being attacked by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He wants to take away lawmaker’s immunity from prosecution, which will mean that representatives of opposition parties can be thrown in jail
Turkish police used the leaflets as an excuse to drag Chris in front of a state prosecutor, who released him but recommended his deportation. Chris was taken to an airport to await the decision of the Istanbul governor.
When given the option, he decided to get a plane to London with his family. While he was in London he gave video lectures for his students in Istanbul. He thanked students for their “solidarity” and said that he would continue his “struggle through the courts.”
The governor of Istanbul decided not to pursue Chris’ deportation, saying he was free to return, which he did.
The Turkish state then leaked reports that he had been charged with possession of “propaganda for a terrorist organisation” to Turkish CNN. After inquiring, Chris’ lawyers found that this was true and that the statements in his video lectures to students are to be used as evidence against him.
The decision to prosecute Chris follows months of brutal repression by the Turkish state. There have been reports of state forces murdering hundreds of people in Kurdish towns in south eastern Turkey.
Academics campaigning for an end to the violence have been thrown in prison, targeted at work and sacked. International solidarity is needed now more than ever.
The web site for international solidarity with Academics for Peace ishttp://internationalsolidarity4academic.tumblr.com/