Turks deprived of the right to education abroad due to arbitrary travel bans

The official opening ceremony of 2019-2020 academic year held in President Erdoğan’s lavish palace

Nordic Monitor


President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist government is denying Turkish nationals the right to receive an education overseas by canceling their passports or not allowing them to leave the country with no legitimate justification, a new document obtained by Nordic Monitor has revealed.

Mehmet Ay, a Turk living in Istanbul, passed the exam to register as a student at the law faculty of the Cyprus Social Sciences University in 2017; however, he was stopped at the airport in Istanbul by the police while on his way to northern Cyprus to complete his registration. Ay was informed by the airport police of a notification in their database that prevented him from leaving the country.

He then filed a petition with the İstanbul 14th High Criminal Court to delete the notification, which was based on fabricated terrorism charges. In his petition Ay reminded the court of one of the basic principles of human rights by referring to Article 42 of the Turkish Constitution, which states that Turkish nationals should not be deprived of the right to an education and that the scope of that right shall be defined and regulated by law.


The petition filed by a Turkish student with the İstanbul 14th High Criminal Court to allow him to travel for study abroad:



According to a postscript in the document, the court declined the request on September 10, 2017 due to his alleged links to an armed terrorist group, but did not issue a warrant for Ay’s arrest. As seen in the document, Erdogan’s Turkey designated the Gülen movement, a civic group that has been active in education, interfaith and intercultural dialogue and charity work in many countries, as a terrorist entity without any evidence in May 2016. But the UN and its agencies declined Turkey’s requests and did not consider the movement a terrorist organization.

The court denied Ay’s request in line with Article 5 of emergency decree no. 667, which was published in the aftermath of a coup attempt on July 15, 2016. However, Article 5 regulates the cancelation of passports of people dismissed by emergency decrees, not the right of people to an education. In addition to Article 42, decision of the high criminal court also violated Article 23 of the constitution, which states that freedom of movement can only be restricted by law.

The Turkish government recently also barred Gülsüm Çetinkaya, a 27-year-old Belgian-Turkish law student, from leaving the country after holding her in prison for more than a month over a series of Facebook posts about Kurds. Çetinkaya was stopped and immediately detained at the Bulgarian border when attempting to enter Turkey with her parents. Çetinkaya, who holds dual Turkish and Belgian citizenship and studies law at Vrije Universiteit Brussels, was released from jail in August but is still not allowed to leave the country.



Gülsüm Çetinkaya


It is clear that the emergency degree itself and the decision of the Turkish court were in violation of not only Articles 23 and 42 of the constitution but also international human rights principles such as those included in the 1st Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), Article 13 of International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) and Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR). The first protocol of the ECHR, which governs the right to an education, has been ratified by parliament. According to Article 2 of the protocol, no person shall be denied the right to an education, and in the exercise of any function it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the state shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching.

The right of everyone to an education is recognized by Article 13 of the CESCR, which points out that education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity, and shall strengthen the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Furthermore, Article 12 of the CCPR states that people lawfully within the territory of a state shall have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose their residence, and they shall be free to leave any country, including their own.


Turkey’s new rectors appointed by Erdoğan are bowing to him in the opening ceremony


The crackdown on critics and the purge of civil servants that were initiated in the aftermath of corruption probes in December 2013 accelerated after the failed coup, which gave Erdoğan a pretext to pursue a mass purge with no administrative or judicial probes. Then, the coup attempt was carried out as a false flag in order to create a pretext for the ensuing crackdown. Interestingly, Erdoğan called the failed coup “a gift from God.” The government has rounded up over half a million volunteers of the Gülen movement since 2016, mainly on coup, terrorism and defamation charges. The witch-hunt aimed to suppress civil society, silence critical voices and stifle the right to dissent, while Erdoğan continued to transform Turkish democracy into a dictatorship.

Under the state of emergency, President Erdoğan passed dozens of emergency decrees without parliamentary scrutiny or the possibility of appeal to the constitutional court in order to transform Turkey’s education system and its academia.

Since 2016 some nearly 140,000 civil servants have been dismissed by the government with no effective judicial or administrative investigation, 33,000 of whom were teachers working in primary and secondary schools. According to a BBC Turkish report, at least 23,427 academics either lost their jobs at universities when their contracts were terminated or were dismissed from their positions, or the universities where they worked were closed down by the government after the attempt. Moreover, Erdoğan closed 15 universities and around 1,000 secondary schools affiliated with the movement. The closures have left about 200,000 students in Turkey in academic limbo, wondering if they can continue their studies and worried about their future.

In 2018, President Erdoğan issued a decree stripping much of the supervisory powers of the country’s education watchdog (YÖK) and gave himself sole authority to appoint university rectors. Prior to the passage of the decree, Article 13 of the law on higher education stipulated that the rector of a university was to be appointed by the president from a list of three candidates with the academic title of professor. These three candidates were to be selected by YÖK from the top six candidates chosen by the teaching staff of the university.


The document that shows the Turkish student as registered with the law faculty of Cyprus Social Sciences University in 2017:




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