Turkish security forces detained 14 academics on Friday and sought seven more accused of terrorist propaganda over a declaration that criticised military action in the largely Kurdish south-east.
President Tayyip Erdogan denounced the 1,000 signatories of the document, who included US philosopher Noam Chomsky, and said those who did not want to do politics in parliament “should go dig trenches or go to the mountains”.
The Turkish opposition and the US ambassador to Turkey criticised prosecutors’ action in ordering investigations and home searches of academics across the country after Mr Erdogan criticised the signatories in a speech on Thursday.
The declaration was inspired by clashes between government forces and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants since a ceasefire broke down in July. The military has locked down entire districts and pounded PKK outposts in residential areas, but denies accusations that its actions have endangered and killed civilians.
The majority of Friday’s detentions were in the western industrial province of Kocaeli, close to Istanbul, Hurriyet newspaper reported.
Meanwhile, clashes continued between government forces and PKK fighters, with five militants and a policeman killed in the eastern town of Sirte, security sources told Reuters.
The declaration, published on Monday, accused the government of heavy-handed tactics in its efforts to weed out militants, who have increasingly brought their fight out of the mountains and into the towns, creating a major headache for security forces.
“The right to life, liberty, and security, and in particular the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment protected by the constitution and international conventions have been violated,” the declaration read.
“We demand that the state abandon its deliberate massacre.”
The document has sharply divided opinion, garnering support from hundreds of academics around the world, but incensing nationalist sentiment inside Turkey.
The PKK, fighting since 1984 firstly for an independent Kurdistan and now for Kurdish autonomy, is considered a terrorist organisation by the United States and the EU as well as Turkey.
The left wing Radikal newspaper on Friday printed photos showing red crosses spray-painted on the office doors of two academics in Ankara who signed the declaration, accompanied by threatening notes.
Turkey’s leading opposition party, the CHP, described the detentions as “totally lawless, unacceptable and extremely dangerous.”
“We will continue to support and side with all our citizens who exercise their freedom of speech without calling for violence,” the party said in a statement on Friday.
Turkey regularly performs badly in surveys on press freedom and freedom of speech and has been heavily criticised by its western and European partners.
“While we may not agree with the opinions expressed by those academics, we are nevertheless concerned about this pressure having a chilling effect on legitimate political discourse,” US Ambassador John Bass said in a statement on the embassy’s Twitter feed on Friday.
“Expressions of concern about violence do not equal support for terrorism. Criticism of government does not equal treason,” Mr Bass added.