ISTANBUL - Following Sunday’s suicide bombing in the Turkish capital Ankara, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for the broadening of the definition of terrorism to include journalists and academics. His call comes as three university teachers were detained on Tuesday on charges of "terrorist propaganda."
That crackdown led to the arrest and detention Monday of Dr. Esra Mungan, one of the organizers of a petition signed by more than 1,000 academics that calls for a resumption of peace efforts with the Kurdish rebel group. Mungan and two of her colleagues face charges of terrorist propaganda.
Turkish academics gathered outside the city's main courthouse Tuesday, voicing their support for their three colleagues.
"I believe in academic freedom and I will fight for it forever,” said professor Faruk Birtek. “Without that, there is no progress; there is no liberty; there is no civilization. And the current government wants to repress academic freedom, freedom of expression, with regard to [the] current situation of peace and no peace in Turkey. And I have never seen anything like what is happening in Turkey today."
Erdogan, who had already condemned the academics who signed the petition as terrorists, on Monday called for a broadening of the term to include accomplices.
Titles such as parliamentary deputy, academic, author and journalist do not change the fact that they are actually terrorists, according to Erdogan. An act of terror is successful, he said, because of such accomplices.
Observers say Erdogan's comments are aimed at the academics who signed the petition, and at parliamentary deputies of the country's main pro-Kurdish party. They also say he is lobbying to have the deputies' parliamentary immunity lifted.
The government blames Sunday’s deadly attack on the PKK.
No middle ground
Erdogan also had a message for his Western allies.
"Some circles, at home and abroad, are at a junction,” he said. “They will either side with us, or with terrorists. There is no middle way.”
The United States and the European Union have criticized the prosecution of the academics.
A student at the courthouse supporting her teachers says she sees their prosecution as a worrying trend.
"It was a manifesto of peace. They signed it for peace in Turkey and now they are in court,” she said. “We are so sorry about that, because in Turkey it is happening all days and people are getting arrested one by one, and we are hoping [they] will be free."
With the prosecutor demanding jail for the academics — and the president backing that demand — observers warn there is a strong possibility the academics could end up behind bars.