A prominent Turkish professor on Thursday began a jail sentence after being convicted of preventing a female student wearing a Muslim headscarf from entering the university where he worked, his lawyer said.
Rennan Pekunlu, a former professor of astrophysics at Ege University, was sentenced to two years in prison in 2012 for violating a headscarf-wearing student’s “constitutional right to education” by barring her from entering the faculty.
Pekunlu began his sentence in a prison in the western city of Izmir, becoming the first individual in Turkey to be jailed for such an offence, his lawyer Murat Fatih Ulku told AFP.
Before heading to prison, the 64-year-old professor gave a public lecture on the “universe and evolution” to an audience including his former students, colleagues as well as members of several labour unions.
“This is not our last lecture. We have a lot more to do. This is not the end,” Pekunlu said before bursting into tears, as gasps and sobbing erupted inside the packed hall.
“Professor Rennan is not alone,” the crowd chanted, according to the website of Hurriyet newspaper.
“AKP dictatorship is doomed to collapse,” they shouted, referring to the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party.
Pekunlu denies the charges, saying he did not prevent any student from entering the university or attending his classes, insisting that he would just “report them to university authorities”, to which he is entitled under Turkish laws.
“I would have done the same in similar circumstances. I have done my duty,” he told CNN-Turk television by phone.
His lawyer said they took the decision to the European Court of Human Rights. “It’s an unfortunate decision in a secular, constitutional state,” Ulku said.
Pekunlu is on trial in two other cases on the same charges and if found guilty he could face up to 12 years in prison.
He also received a suspended sentence for beating a veiled student at his university -- charges he insists were fabricated.
The Higher Education Board (YOK) lifted a ban on the wearing of the Muslim headscarf on university campuses in 2010.
However, some universities maintained the notorious ban, contesting the legality of the decree.
The highly charged headscarf debate lies at the heart of Turkey’s divisions between religious conservatives, who form the bulk of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s supporters, and more secular members of society.
The government is already under fire for what critics say are creeping efforts to force Islamic values on the predominantly Muslim country.
Last year, the parliament lifted a decades-old ban on headscarves in the civil service and in September, it allowed girls in high schools to wear the headscarf.SHOW MORE