Summary and Current Status
Büşra Ersanlı is a professor of political science at Marmara University. On October 28, 2011, Professor Ersanlı was among several dozen people taken into custody by the Istanbul Police Department’s counterterrorism unit in connection with an ongoing crackdown against Kurdish political parties that began in 2009. (Professor Ersanlı is a member of the Peace and Democracy Party (Bariş ve Demokrasi Partisi, BDP) assembly.) She and 43 others reportedly were suspected of having links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a violent, outlawed separatist Kurdish rebel group. On November 1, 2011, Istanbul Prosecutor Adnan Çimen brought separatist charges against Professor Ersanlı and the other 43 under Turkey’s Anti-Terrorism Law. She was detained in Bakirkoy Prison for Women in Istanbul for approximately eight months, after which she was transferred to Silivri prison.
In late March 2012, prosecutors filed an indictment urging that Professor Ersanlı be given a 22-1/2 year prison sentence. She was charged with “leading a terrorist organization” under Article 314 of the Turkish Penal Code. On April 3, 2012, the Istanbul 15th High Criminal Court accepted the 2,400 page indictment (of which 27 pages are devoted to Professor Ersanli’s case) and set the first trial hearing for July 2, 2012, at the Silivri prison complex, some 50 miles from Istanbul. On July 13, 2012, during the eighth hearing, Professor Ersanlı and 15 other defendants were released from detention pending the outcome of their trial, which is ongoing. Chief Justice Ali Aclic is the presiding judge. Of the 205 defendants charged in the case, 124 remain in custody.
Professor Ersanlı is a faculty member in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Marmara University in Istanbul. An expert in constitutional law, she is a non-Kurdish member of the Assembly of the Peace and Democracy Party (Bariş ve Demokrasi Partisi, BDP), a legal pro-Kurdish political party. At the time of her arrest Professor Ersanli was working, as a member of the BDP’s Constitutional Commission, on drafting a new constitution for consideration by the Turkish parliament, which was to examine the issue in the coming months. Professor Ersanlı reportedly had also recently given a lecture on gender issues at the BDP’s Academy of Politics, about which she was questioned in court. She was registered to chair a session at the conference “Controversial Issues in the History of the Turkish Republic” (hosted by the BDP’s History Foundation in celebration of its 20th anniversary and held at Istanbul Bilgi University) on October 29. Her arrest the previous day prevented her from doing so.
Professor Ersanlı’s arrest is part of an ongoing investigation into the Union of Kurdish Communities (Koma Civaken Kurdistan, KCK) and trial known as the “KCK operations.” The KCK is an umbrella organization comprised of several groups, including the outlawed and violent PKK, promoting cultural and political autonomy for Turkish Kurds. The government alleges that the KCK is an urban terrorist organization and that the BDP has links to it. (The PKK is considered to be a terrorist organization by the United States Department of State.)
The BDP was created in 2009, after the Democratic Society Party (DTP) was forced to shut down following accusations of having links to the PKK. Although the BDP has formally stated that it has no relations with the PKK, hundreds of BDP members and former DTP members have been arrested over the past few years under Turkey’s Anti-Terrorism law. This law contains a vague and overly broad definition of terrorism that the United Nations insists “should be brought in line with international norms and standards.”
Human Rights Watch has reported on the prolonged detention of hundreds of BDP members, stating that “the use of terrorism laws to prosecute sitting mayors and other BDP officials is both troubling and all too familiar. Without compelling evidence of violent activities, it’s hard to see the prosecution’s effort to link this legal party with an illegal organization as anything but a clampdown on legitimate political activity.” It appears that Professor Ersanlı, a highly respected academic and constitutional law expert, is being tried on politically motivated charges. Turkish academics who have known Professor Ersanlı since childhood have assured the CHR that she supports peaceful change and has never been associated with violence. The Turkish Association of University Teachers (Universite Ogretim Uyeleri Dernegi) and the Turkish Education Union have actively protested her arrest.
While in detention Professor Ersanlı received awards from PEN (Turkey) in March 2012, PEN (Netherlands) in September 2012, the Diyarbakır Medical Doctors’ Association in March 2012, and the Human Rights Association of Turkey in May 2012. The CHR visited Professor Ersanlı during its mission to Turkey in February 2013 and is in regular contact with her. In September 2013 CHR Chair Sidney Verba nominated her for the AAAS Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award.
For suggestions of possible actions on Professor Ersanlı’s case, please contact the CHR at email@example.com.