Academics, Scientists Launch Petition for Dr. Bülent Şık, Demand His Conviction Overturned

Yazar / Referans: 
Hikmet Adal, Bianet

Dr. Şık was sentenced to prison for releasing the findings of a study on the effects of environmental factors on cancer cases.

Academics, scientists and rights defenders from around the world have launched a petition for Dr. Bülent Şık, a food engineer and a columnist for bianet who was sentenced to 15 months in prison for releasing the findings of a study on the effects of environmental factors on cancer cases.

Şık, who also participated in the research, wrote an article series titled, "The state has concealed the carcinogen products, we are making them public! Here is the poison list," in daily Cumhuriyet in April 2018. He was then charged with "disclosing prohibited information" and eventually convicted of "disclosing information about his duty."

CLICK - Bülent Şık Sentenced to 1 Year, 3 Months in Prison

"We express our solidarity with Dr. Şık who acted as a responsible scientist defending public health," the petition says and calls on academics and scientists to suspend their collaborations with the Ministry of Health, which conducted the research.

The findings of the research project titled, "The Project on Assessment of Environmental Factors in the Provinces of Kocaeli, Antalya, Tekirdağ, Edirne, Kırklareli and Their Impacts on Health," has not been disclosed by authorities to this day.

The signatories demanded the court of appeals nullify Şık's conviction.

The petition has been so far signed by more than 260 scientists, academics and rights advocates, including Nobel Laureates Eric Wieschaus, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, Roald Hoffmann, Robert Curl.

Here is the full text of the petition:

As academics, scientists, and advocates of human rights and environmental justice, we strongly condemn the sentencing of Dr. Bülent Şık to 15 months in prison. Dr. Şık is a food engineer and expert in measuring toxic residues in food such as pesticides, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, and heavy metals. Dr. Şık conducted research under the auspices of Turkey's Ministry of Health as an assistant professor at Akdeniz University in Turkey (2009-2016), where he also served as deputy director of the University's Food Safety and Agricultural Research Center (2010-2016). This research involved measuring environmental pollutants in soil, food, air, surface water, and groundwater to assess possible links to increasing incidence rates of cancer. His study identified "health-threatening levels of pesticides, heavy metals, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in multiple food and water samples in the cities of Kocaeli, Kırklareli, Tekirdağ, and Edirne, located in the Ergene River basin. In some residential areas, the water was totally undrinkable because of lead, aluminum, chrome and arsenic pollution".

In 2016, Dr. Şık, together with over two thousand other academics, signed the Academics for Peace statement "We will not be a party to this crime," which was critical of military actions in the Kurdish regions of the country. For this reason, he was indicted for allegedly making terrorist propaganda, fired from the Food Safety and Agricultural Research Center and, along with hundreds of other signatories, lost his academic position pursuant to Decree No. 677 on November 22, 2016. (The Constitutional Court in Turkey subsequently ruled on July 26, 2019 that punishing academics for signing the statement was a violation of their freedom of expression, yet no academics have been reinstated since the ruling).

Dr. Şık's research had revealed serious environmental risks to public health, and children's health in particular, yet three years had passed without public comment or remediation efforts by the Ministry of Health. In April of 2018, Dr. Şık thus decided to summarize his research in a series of articles in the national daily newspaper Cumhuriyet. Two months later, Prosecutor Gökhan Boydak of the İstanbul Terror and Organized Crimes Investigation Bureau issued an indictment of Dr. Şık, which carried a possible 12-year sentence, for allegedly violating Turkish Penal Code Article 258 (Disclosure of office secrets), Article 334 (Disclosure of restricted information for political or military spying purposes), and Article 336 (Holding documents relating to Public security). At his first two hearings, on February 7, 2019 and May 30, 2019, a request for acquittal was heard and denied and the court sought more information from the Ministry of Health-. At his third hearing on September 26, 2019, Dr. Şık was acquitted of two of the three charges but convicted of violating Article 258. Although he could have received a suspended sentence if he expressed remorse, Dr. Şık testified he had a duty to act: "scientists should regard it as a fundamental responsibility to carry their knowledge and results of the studies they conducted to the public sphere... Institutions might stay silent in the face of social problems, but a scientist should not stay silent". He was sentenced to fifteen months in prison. Dr. Şık has since appealed his conviction and is awaiting a hearing at the Turkish Court of Appeals, which could happen at any time.

According to Reporters Without Borders Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu: "It was clearly in the public interest for Bülent Şık to publish this information, so his conviction is a profoundly unjust act of censorship". Sarah Clarke, Head of Europe and Central Asia at the British human rights organization ARTICLE 19, called Bülent Şık's conviction "further evidence of the erosion of the rule of law and judicial independence in Turkey". Amnesty international's Senior Campaigner on Turkey, Milena Buyum, wrote that "Dr Bülent Şık believed he had a duty to ensure that his research findings revealing the presence of carcinogenic pesticides and other toxins in agricultural products and water, were in the public domain"

Dr. Bülent Şık's appeal could be taken up any day and without advance warning, so international support is urgently needed. We, the undersigned, express our solidarity with Dr. Şık who acted as a responsible scientist defending public health. We encourage scientists and academics around the world to suspend collaborations with the Turkish Ministry of Health and academic institutions in Turkey that deliberately target academic freedom and freedom of speech. We ask the (domestic and international) public to stand in solidarity with Dr. Şık and call upon the judges at the Court of Appeals to do what is right and nullify his conviction.

About Bülent Şık

Food Engineer. In his PhD studies, he specialized in the development of environmentally friendly methods of analysis. He worked for several laboratories operating as part of the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock.

In 2009, he started working as a lecturer at Akdeniz University and took active part in the establishment of its Food Security and Agricultural Research Center. From 2010 to 2015, he was the Technical Deputy Director at the same center.

While he was working as a lecturer at the Department of Gastronomy and Culinary Arts, he was discharged as per the Statutory Decree no. 677 on November 22, 2016.