irak, vojska, turska, is, vojnici.jpg
Photograph: EPA/STR

Academics in Turkey who signed a petition calling for peace amid a surge in violence between state security forces and Kurdish militants are facing pressure, including a criminal investigation, which was opened Thursday.

Prosecutors are considering charging the academics with carrying out propaganda for a terrorist organization, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

The academics' statement was critical of the government's offensive – which was dubbed a "massacre" - and use of heavy weapons in neighbourhoods in the mostly Kurdish south-east of the country.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken to almost daily public bashings of the group, which started with about 1,100 signatories, but this has since doubled, according to organizers.

At least one academic was suspended from her job at Duzce University in northern Turkey for joining the call for peace.

The academics have also been threatened with violence. Sedat Peker, a nationalist Turkish criminal leader pledged to bathe in their blood which would "flow in streams."

More formally, Erdogan said the academics were spreading "hatred" and "imposing the language and tone of the terror organization on public opinion." He was referring to the armed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

A two-year ceasefire between the state and the PKK broke down in July, and hundreds of people have died in renewed fighting over the last six months, including civilians.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu rhetorically asked why the academics chose to "align" themselves with terrorists, Anadolu reported.

Leftwing US academic Noam Chomsky, who supported calls for peace, was singled out by Erdogan for criticism. In an email to the Guardian newspaper, Chomsky hit back at Turkish policy in the mostly Kurdish south-east of the country.

"With the sieges imposed on their communities in the south-east, Turkey has effectively declared war on its own people," Chomsky wrote.

Human rights groups have been critical of the strict round-the-clock curfews Turkish security forces are implementing in the south-east.Kurdish official say dozens of civilians have been killed.

The Turkish army says it has killed 370 alleged militants in just two districts in the south-east since it launched a tough fresh offensive last month.

The PKK, listed as a terrorist group in the US and EU, has been waging a 30-year battle with the state for greater rights and autonomy for the Kurdish minority in Turkey, which makes up at least 15 per cent of the country.

Kurds have for decades complained of systemic discrimination. The Kurdish language was banned for a number of years, though recently restrictions have been relaxed.

The backlash against the academics comes as Reporters Without Borders ranks Turkey 149th out of 180 countries for freedom of the press.

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