You don’t know me, and nor should you. Frankly, I would prefer not to have to reach out to you this way either, putting myself under the spotlight — fully exposed to the wrath of Jantelagen — but the institution you have been presiding over since January 1, 2021 has not left me any other option.
In one of your recent blog posts, you express your support for the ongoing protests in Iran and say that “Lund University stands for and protects democracy, freedom of opinion and respect for everyone’s equal value and human freedoms and rights”. I am afraid that the Lund University I know and worked at for almost a decade does anything but that. As anyone who reads daily newspapers (see for example here, here, here, here and here) or is familiar with the work of Academic Rights Watch would no doubt agree, some of your employees systematically violate basic freedoms and rights such as the right to a fair and thorough workplace investigation and right of public access to official documents in contravention of the Work Environment Act (1977: 1160), the Public Employment Act (1994: 260) and the Swedish Work Authority’s Statute Book (AFS 2015: 4); they routinely betray the spirit of the Discrimination Act (2008: 567) by failing to promote equal rights and opportunities for all their employees and subjecting them to discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and gender; they blatantly disregard the most fundamental rules of research ethics, notably intellectual property rights; in some cases, they go so far so far as to aid and abet people who are criminally convicted in a Swedish court of law to continue perpetrating their crime by sharing confidential documents with the media in another (non-democratic) country.
Let me be more specific. I have been persistently harassed by one of your employees for almost five years now, even though I physically left Sweden in August 2018 and ended my employment at Lund University as of March 31, 2020. As I document in detail later, this persistent campaign of harassment was enabled, in fact encouraged, by the Faculty of Social Sciences and the former Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES). I was obliged to defend myself against a series of false allegations under the most excruciating circumstances, at a time when our 5-year old son Luca was undergoing treatment for a rare form of childhood cancer. He died on July 5, 2018. The harassment did not end.
I asked for the faculty’s help and filed a complaint of harassment in late 2018, as I was still employed by the university, but my complaint was used as yet another tool of harassment and bullying against me, egged on by the Faculty of Social Sciences. I then sought legal advice and sent two cease and desist letters to the employee in question. This led your employee to escalate her campaign by publicly naming and shaming me on Turkish Twitter. I filed a criminal lawsuit against her.
The Lund District Court Criminal Division found your employee guilty of gross defamation and defamation on 6 counts of gross defamation and 1 count of defamation (out of a total of 11 counts) on October 13, 2021 (B6064-20). This decision was slightly revised, but upheld by the Court of Appeals of Skåne and Blekinge which found the defendant guilty on 3 counts of gross defamation and 1 count of defamation, and increased the damages she should pay to me by 50 percent (B3866-21). The defendant tried to appeal this decision as well, but the Swedish Supreme Court decided not to review the material, and the decision entered into legal force as of November 3, 2022. This means that your employee is now a convicted criminal in Sweden and, as she herself informed the court during the appeal trial, the Swedish Migration Agency has decided not to grant her a permanent residence permit in Sweden.
Alas, not even a criminal conviction was able to stop your employee who continued to harass me through both private and public channels, hiding or misrepresenting court decisions, and enlisting the support of the Turkish state (which is ranked 116th among 140 countries according to the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 2022; it also figures as 6th on the list of countries with the largest numbers of prisoners in the world as of December 2022). Hence on May 8, 2022, your employee gave a testimony in Lund Police Station as part of an investigation led by the Chief Prosecutor of the Turkish Republic and asked the state to prosecute me. And on August 18, 2022, i.e. after being convicted by the Court of Appeals in Sweden, she applied for — and later obtained — a “restraining order” against me in Turkey (on November 4, 2022, one day before the first order expired, your employee requested an extension). Yes, you read it right: a person who currently lives in Sweden took a restraining order in Turkey against someone who has been living in Spain for the last 4.5 years!
You may of course wonder why I am bringing this to your attention. For three reasons:
Lund University is directly responsible for the financial, reputational and psychological damage I have incurred — and continue to incur — to this day.
Those who are complicit in this campaign of harassment have not been held accountable for their gross misconduct which includes aiding and abetting someone convicted in a Swedish court of law to perpetrate her crime in another country.
My and my legal representatives’ attempts to contact the Faculty of Social Sciences to ask for an explanation and our demands to put an end to this harassment have been ignored.
To begin with, your employee has been able to harass me on account of a document titled “Misconduct – Clarification of Obligations” relayed to me on June 1, 2018, at the end of a so-called “psycho-social investigation” by an unprofessional and heavily biased external consultant. The complaint that led to this investigation was itself vague, and totally devoid of evidentiary support — hence rejected twice by the police. As a matter of fact, in an email he sent me on April 4, 2018, 12 days after the complaint was made, Christofer Edling wrote the following: “In all honesty we are having difficulties in finding an appropriate label for this incidence (sic), but at least it is clear to us that it relates to inter-personal relations at the work-place in which a least one of the parts experience deep discomfort”. He later stated in writing that “the investigation found that the source of the problem was a broken relationship that had escalated to a conflict, which spilled over into the work environment and left the plaintive (sic) feeling harassed and victimized”, a point he reiterated under oath during his testimony in court. This made its way into the judgement of the Lund District Court (B6460-20) which states that the document that was given by the Faculty “only concerned less appropriate behavior in different situations”. The judgement also confirmed that the “reprimand is neither a punishment nor a disciplinary action”.
It is important to note at this point that I had already rejected this document in the presence of my union representative at the final meeting, and later through an official letter by my legal representative, long before these statements found their way into legal decisions. And yet, as a result of this legally non-binding document which was misrepresented and widely circulated by your employee, and later by Andréa Björk of the Faculty of Social Sciences (despite my request for confidentiality on April 9, 2018), I have been the target of a massive social media pile-on and character assassination. I was called a “sexual harasser”, “serial sexual harasser” and “perpetrator of violence” by thousands of people who had no clue about the nature of the document or the deeply flawed psycho-social investigation by the faculty (at the peak of the campaign, I was even accused of being a “potential killer” who may have murdered your employee had she not gone public). My pictures were all over pro-government media and on national TV in Turkey which branded me a “terrorist pervert”; I started to receive death threats which compelled us to contact the Swedish Security Service, SÄPO (I am a Swedish citizen, but the Turkish government is known to target dissidents abroad); the Chief Prosecutor of the Turkish Republic started an official investigation regarding the allegations, which prevented me from visiting my family for several months; I had to spend all my savings to legally fight this smear campaign in three different countries; I was ostracized in Turkey and had to struggle with “cancel campaigns” in several countries; I lost two important projects, a book deal and an international documentary project about my son (over phone or Zoom conversations; details available upon request); the mother of my son, who was called to testify in court, suffered from PTSD because of her traumatic encounter with your employee; my own PTSD was exacerbated due to this systematic campaign, and I was placed under heavy medication, which still prevents me from properly grieving for my deceased son.
But there is more. And this is worse, for it concerns research ethics and possible mismanagement of funds. This whole ordeal began after a Marie Curie application we made with your employee was awarded €185,857.20 under H2020-EU.1.3.2 (FIRE, “Fighting Insurgency, Ruining the Environment: towards an understanding of the causal relationship between conflict and forest fires”, grant agreement ID: 796086). As confirmed by the employee herself in the private exchanges we had the day we decided to make this application, the project idea was mine, and the employee was supposed to work under my supervision as of October 1, 2018. When our intimate relationship — which had begun outside the work environment, even before this person came to Sweden — ended, your employee forced me to withdraw from the project with a message she sent through a co-worker on March 7, 2018 where she threatened to file a complaint of harassment to the faculty if I failed to step down. As we were about to take our son to Barcelona for a clinical trial, I did comply. I also cooperated with CMES and the faculty to keep the grant, and arranged for Petter Pilesjö to replace me as the supervisor of the project. In an email addressed to me and your employer on March 21, 2018, Petter wrote: “I highly appreciate your professional view/behavior on this! As you know, I’m only interested in research related questions/challenges and want to leave all personal things behind.” The day after this email, which is to say once the supervision arrangements were finalized, your employee filed a complaint of harassment against me to the faculty.
I brought this to the attention of the external consultant and the faculty on several occasions at the time, but I was compelled by Christofer not to talk about this issue. I also asked for my intellectual property rights to be acknowledged since the original research idea was mine and I co-authored the proposal which was granted the award. Unfortunately, despite repeated requests, both in person and in writing, my intellectual property rights have never been acknowledged in any shape or format. On the contrary, when I added the project to the list of grants I received to my research portal at Lund University, Christofer intervened and unilaterally removed the grant from my Lucris page. The email that was sent to me on March 13, 2019, was a clear example of bullying and victimization as defined by Organisational and Social Work Environment, the Swedish Work Authority’s Statute Book (AFS 2015:4): “For your information, your name will be removed from the FIRE project in Lucris. It was my hope that we had signalled very clearly what is expected from you as an employer at LU. Given previous agreement and reminder, and in light of the February report (and your responding email), your decision to post and attach your name to this project in the research portal is both surprising and disappointing”.
So I am now asking you Erik, as the head of the institution which employs 70,000 people and claims to be a stalwart defender of academic freedom: is this what is expected from an employee at Lund University? To forego his intellectual property rights on a project based on his idea and whose proposal he co-authored — a project that he was also supposed to supervise? Is that what you meant when you talked about “the importance of research ethics” in your blog post on the infamous Macchiarini affair, i.e. bullying co-workers to forego their rights?
Needless to say, I don’t expect you to know about every research project carried out at Lund University. But if you go to the official page of the FIRE project on the European Commission website, you will see the following statement: “due to various reasons, the PI of the project [your employee] was unable to cover all the cases initially proposed”. The Commission does not elaborate on what these “various reasons” are, and an unsuspecting reader might easily think that they were related to the COVID-19 pandemic. I might have thought the same had I not seen the letter your employee sent to the coordinators of the FIRE project at the European Commission on June 8, 2020. Noting that she filed a complaint for “(sexual) harassment against me in 2018” (as clarified above, the complaint was never about “sexual harassment” — in brackets or not), she wrote:
I have been going through this continuous harassment ever since I received the grant in February 2018 … Although I never was on sick leave, I had to work under extreme stress, I had to devote all my time and energy to deal with this harassment. Consequently, I feel that I have failed to produce what I was supposed to produce as a Marie Curie fellow, I am extremely upset and I feel that I had to waste such a prestigious grant simply because I had to protect myself from a stalker/harasser in the last 2.5 years (my italics).
Three other people were copied to this letter: Christofer Edling, Ronny Berndtsson (former Director of CMES) and Emma Ohlsson (Human Resources Coordinator). May I then ask: is this how the institution you are heading supposed to combat “research fraud” and protect “academic freedom”? How could three public employees acquiesce to the perpetration of what they know to be an outright lie, even according to their own biased investigation? Do their job descriptions include aiding and abetting a smear campaign against a former employee? How am I expected to make a grant application to the EU with this accusation on the record? And how could Lund University let €185,857.20 of taxpayers’ money get “wasted”, to use your employee’s words? Are Swedish and European taxpayers aware that this money was “wasted” by someone allegedly protecting herself from a non-existent “stalker/harasser” for 2.5 years, with the silent approval — if not the active help — of the Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, the former Director of CMES, a Human Resources Coordinator, not to mention the co-researcher (Lina Eklund) and the supervisor of the project (Petter Pilesjö)?
I am addressing these questions to you Erik, and I am addressing them publicly, because I have been unable to get an answer from the relevant parties for the last five years. And now I have documents that prove that they have been actively contributing to a defamation campaign by obstructing justice (withholding documents from me and my lawyers, then sharing them with media in another country, thereby breaching half a dozen laws and regulations). I have concrete proof that one of your employees has been cooperating with the Turkish state to get me imprisoned using a legally non-binding and unappealable document that I have disputed several times through my legal representatives, and later in a Swedish court of law. In short, justice has not been served.
The legal process in Sweden is over, but Swedish law enforcement authorities refuse to enforce a decision taken by their own court, recommending that I should file yet another civil lawsuit. Unfortunately, I don’t have the high profile of some other victims of defamation for the state prosecutor to take up my case, and neither do I have the resources and energy to take on the army of lawyers that Lund University has at its disposal. I cannot go to the Discrimination Ombudsman either, due to the statute of limitations. And no, I couldn’t act earlier because, well, I lost my son and I had other issues to attend to. I know that Swedish people don’t like drama, but for me, for my family, this is not drama. This a fact of life that will accompany us until the end of our days. My son’s memory was tainted by your employees and dozens of unhinged social media users who went so far as to write “the sons pay for the sins of their fathers”, alleging that the money we collected for his treatment was spent on lawyers (leading a grieving mother who had nothing to do with this repulsive and evil campaign to pen a public statement) even though the little that remained was donated to Barncancerfonden in 2018. More importantly, the two projects that remain cancelled to this day are a book about his struggle with cancer and an international documentary on how his mother and I were coping with grief.
I want this ongoing harassment to end, and those who are responsible to be held accountable. I thus demand the following:
A public apology;
The acknowledgement of my intellectual property rights on the Marie Curie project;
An inquiry by an independent commission (and no, I don’t mean a “psycho-social investigation” of the type conducted by OMNIA Utvecklingskonsulter KB);
The university to consider making a donation to Skåne University Hospital, Pediatric Oncology and Hematology Department, since the income generated by my book and the documentary was earmarked for neuroblastoma research, the cancer that took our son’s and many more children’s lives.
I would like to stress here that this last demand is not some form of “moral blackmail” — a likely interpretation by your legal team in the light of my experience in the five years. I can repair my reputation, fight politically-motivated smear campaigns, make money to compensate for my losses even sort out my health if, or course, I am left alone. The only thing that I cannot fix is the damage done to my son’s memory. I will never forget or forgive this. And I will not let this go until justice is restored to the extent that this is possible.
Sincerely, Umut Özkirimli
P.S . I could have, and perhaps should have, ended here, but I lived in Sweden long enough to know that the first reaction of the institution to this letter will be to close ranks, take the gloves off and hit back. Chances are you will never see this email, but be briefed about it, and choose to remain silent as you did in other cases that hit newspaper headlines. You will also be fed falsehoods to discredit me and my character by the people mentioned above as well as your legal team — the mastermind behind this show. I will therefore provide a chronological account of the specifics of the story as Annexes, backed by concrete evidence presented to three different courts in Sweden (and several more in Turkey). I also strongly recommend that your legal team watch the YouTube videos I published in June 2022 (here and here, in Turkish with English subtitles), exposing the many lies your employee told under oath in court, before rushing to a conclusion. Unlike some of your employees, I do not intend to keep the hundreds of pages of documents I used in these videos to myself. I can mail them to your legal team if the university pays 248 SEK + cost for postage.
Violation of the right not to be subject to defamation, to a fair and thorough workplace investigation and public access to official documents
I first met your employee in March 2017 while she was still in Turkey, through a colleague who asked me to help her with a job application to Lund University. This soon led to what was later described as an “intimate relationship” in the report prepared by Margaretha Brundin of OMNIA Utvecklingskonsulter KB, the external consultant contracted by LU. Your employee moved to Sweden with her daughter in August 2017. Our children became friends, and we started to spend most of our time together until we broke up in November 2017. In the meantime, the employee got a scholarship from the Swedish Institute with my support and became a postdoctoral visiting researcher at CMES.
The break-up led to some tensions that spilled over to the work environment in December 2017, but things were settled from January 2018 onwards. We continued to work and socialize together, albeit less frequently. We also got the news that the Marie Curie application we made together was granted funding.
On March 4, 2018, my social media accounts were hacked by an anonymous hacker who claimed in a Facebook post on my timeline that I hired him to hack into your employee’s account (a claim he made up to extort money from me and your employee). The incident was immediately reported to LU security and the police. The police did not find any foul play and asked us not to interact with the hacker.
On March 6, 2018, I sent an email to your employee and ended all communication, as she spread the rumour that I was responsible for the hacking incident. This was the last time I had contact with this person.
On March 7, 2018, I received a message from a Spyros A. Sofos who was acting as an intermediary between me and your employee. The message stated that if I don’t step down as the supervisor of the Marie Curie project, she would file a complaint of harassment to the Faculty of Social Sciences.
On March 8, 2018, I wrote an email to Dalia Abdelhady, the then Director of CMES, and stepped down from the project, using my son’s illness as an excuse. In that email, I also offered my support to the prospective supervisor of the Marie Curie project.
On March 13, 2018, your employee published a blog post in Turkish entitled “A story that is known to everybody” where I was portrayed as a “perpetrator of sexual harassment” (my name was not openly mentioned). The blog ended with the following words: “We know they will continue hurting others … So what are we doing now?”. I shared this post with the external consultant in my first interview; she didn’t even read it.
On March 22, 2018, I received an email from Christofer Edling, informing me “that the Faculty has received a complaint about harassment involving [me]”. In a follow-up email the same day, Christofer also said that “in light of this situation I have asked the [European] commission to put the grant agreement preparation for the Marie Curie project on hold”.
On March 22 and 23, 2018, I sent several emails to Andréa Björk and asked her to brief me about the specifics of the complaint. Andréa replied by saying that they are “currently in the process of getting an understanding of the situation” and will inform me when they can.
On 23 March 2018, union representatives told me in person that they have never heard of a case where the accused is kept in the dark after being informed that he faces charges of harassment. When I relayed this to Andréa, she suggested me to contact a therapist.
I spent the next two weeks with my son who was undergoing treatment in Barcelona. My attempts to find out more about the allegations failed.
On March 27, 2018, the mother of my son, Erika Larsson, contacted your employee on Messenger without my knowledge and asked her to drop the charges, informing her that our son did not have much time left. The employee declined to withdraw her complaint (I do not share this exchange to protect Erika’s privacy). Later, I found out from a former student who prefers to remain anonymous that your employee was sharing this information — that Luca did not have much time left — with third parties she wanted to recruit to her campaign (your employee was the only person outside family who had this piece of information, so the third party could not have learned it from other sources). This student confessed that she was herself harassed to testify against me by two former male CMES students who said that they were contacting her on behalf of CMES management and that the center would cover travel expenses should she decide to testify. She refused, saying that she was never subject to harassment by me. In June 2018, the same student brought my mother to Lund so that she can see her grandson one last time (I am not sharing the exchanges we had prior and after that trip to respect her request for anonymity).
On April 9, 2018, Christofer finally sent me an update and said that the process was delayed since they “are having difficulties in finding an appropriate label for this incidence (sic), but at least it is clear to us that it relates to inter-personal relations at the work-place in which a least one of the parts experience deep discomfort”. In this email, he also assured me that my “worries about intellectual property rights” will be taken very seriously.
On April 12, 2018, I was informed that an external consultant was contracted and that I was going to meet her on April 16, 2018.
On April 16, 2018, the morning of the meeting, Andréa wrote to me that “due to circumstances [they] have no impact over, [they] unfortunately need to change date and time for the meeting” with the consultant. The new date for the meeting was April 19, 2018. The same day, I also received an email from Christofer who told me that the consultant prefers to meet me alone, without my union representative, and that she doesn’t want the meeting to be recorded. Apparently, the consultant told Christofer that in her experience “it is much more difficult to establish an open and trustful conversation with a third party in the room”. Saco didn’t want me to go to the meeting alone. But I didn’t want to further delay the process as I had to return to Barcelona to be with my son. So I caved in.
On April 19, 2018, I had a meeting with the consultant. She was friendly but refused to go through any of the documents I provided in my defence. This was also the first time that I found out about the nature of the allegations against me.
On May 10, 2018, Christofer sent me an email, saying that they “are still in investigating-mode” and that they “are asking [the consultant] to do a full investigation of added complaints”. I wasn’t aware of any “added complaints”. My attempts to find out about these new allegations fell to deaf ears.
On May 17, 2018, one week after this puzzling email, I was told by Andréa that the “added complaints” referred to “a complaint from a CMES student about harassment”. Once again, I was not offered further information.
On May 18, 2018, I had a second meeting with the same consultant. This time, she was openly hostile, using her position of power to shut me down and bully me. Her so-called “analysis” would later prove that she didn’t listen to anything I said, and she was ethnically prejudiced.
In this meeting, I found out that the CMES student in question was the original accuser’s friend from Turkey. This didn’t make any sense since this student had a high opinion of me as an instructor and:
wanted me to supervise her masters dissertation;
sought my advice on December 7, 2017, to file a complaint against Dalia Abdelhady, which she claimed discriminated against her on the grounds of gender;
asked for a recommendation letter on February 6, 2018, to apply for a Swedish Institute scholarship;
visited her friends in Greece while I was myself there in March 2018 so that I could introduce her to a colleague from Cyprus (whom she interviewed at the Hilton Hotel in Athens on March 1, 2018 — I am not sharing pics to protect third parties’ anonymity);
applied for an internship position to work with me on her vlog project on March 6, 2018.
On one occasion, after a social gathering with colleagues and students from CMES, she came to my place with other students and another colleague, Anders Ackfeldt. She got drunk and passed out on the sofa, only to leave in the morning. She mentioned this incident in her interview with the consultant, and said — referring to her excessive alcohol consumption — that “she felt irresponsible and uneasy about what happened”. I thus asked the consultant about the nature of the accusation and the evidence she provided to substantiate her claims.
It turns out she was accusing me of “sexual harassment” without any evidence other than a few matter-of-factly Whatsapp exchanges. The consultant also told me the student reported me to the police the day before the interview, but her complaint was rejected by the police which claimed, in the student’s words, that “there are no explicit sexual messages in the documentation which she referred to”.
Two things are worth noting in this context. First, even the heavily biased consultant ruled out the possibility of harassment/sexual harassment in her report, referring to the incident as “exceeding the boundaries expected from a senior co-worker” — without specifying what those boundaries are and how I crossed them. She also noted that the student benefitted from me, “someone senior who can open up opportunities, introduce her to networks etc. and was initially flattered by the attention from [me]. Her boundaries with respect to [me] were not clear (prior to March 22) … The consultant therefore sees a need to clarify for the students that they also have a responsibility for their boundaries, for example not to accept alcohol that is offered”. This was also reflected in the “written reprimand” which stated that I “subjected a student to offensive treatment”, a claim that I categorically rejected.
Despite these observations — and that’s the second point — when the student joined the public shaming campaign launched by your employee on June 5, 2020, she alleged that I was “sexually harassing” her since October 2017, i.e. when I still had a relationship with your employee who was, as alluded to above, a friend of the student in question (they were working at the same institution in Turkey and co-authored an article together in 2016). That would have meant — technically — that she asked her alleged “harasser” to be her thesis supervisor, applied to a scholarship with a recommendation letter from her alleged “harasser”, applied for a position to be her alleged “harasser’s” intern and met her alleged “harasser” during a trip in Greece so that she could interview a leading expert who happened to be the alleged “harasser’s” friend. As she lacked evidence for these wild allegations, the student did not hesitate to tamper with the decision provided by the faculty, cutting out the parts that did not suit her purposes and changing the bulleting style to create the impression that there was a separate reprimand regarding my behaviour towards her.
I would like to conclude this long interlude by noting that this student continues to slander me using a tampered version of the document provided by the faculty. I thus filed a civil lawsuit against this person in Turkey. The legal process is still ongoing.
On June 1, 2018, a concluding meeting was held with me, my then union representative Mattias Collin, Christofer Edling and Andréa Björk. For reasons that I still find difficult to fathom, Christofer was extremely tense, and at some point started yelling at me, crossing the boundaries of employer-employee relationship (for which he later apologized). Mattias asked for a recess; we consulted my then lawyer Kristina Bandrup who advised me to immediately leave the meeting. Once again, my personal circumstances intervened. My son’s cancer had relapsed a final time; he was undergoing emergency surgery as we were having this meeting; and I needed to get this over with. The meeting resumed and I was given a document titled “Misconduct – Clarification of Obligations”. We were told at the very end of the meeting that a third complaint was made by a fellow worker, Andreas Johansson, on May 4, 2018, who claimed that I had warned him not to interfere in the relationship between me and your employee, and that he “understands the threat to be genuine”. He also stated that the threat feels “very uncomfortable and unpleasant”. Mattias and I wanted to end the meeting immediately, for this complaint was never relayed to me, but Christofer assured us that they did not take the complaint seriously, hence did not even investigate it.
The document was in Swedish, so I wasn’t aware of its nature or its contents. One and a half months later, when I had the document translated into English, I saw that I was also accused of “threatening a co-worker”! The Faculty thus deemed it appropriate to give me a reprimand about an incident that I didn’t know about and that was not even investigated. Had they carried out a proper investigation or simply asked me about it, I could have told them that I had apologized to Andreas for a misunderstanding (not a threat) that took place in December 2017 and since then we had a very friendly relationship; and that it would not have made sense for me to threaten Andreas anyway since your employee was already in a relationship with another person (this was known to other people at CMES, hence to me).
The complaint stated that “The threat from Umut against Andreas is related via Anders Ackfeldt: ‘Anders called me directly after he had spoken to Umut and sounded very upset (email, 4 May)’. The threat related by Anders is, according to Andreas, worded that ‘Andreas should stop poking his nose in and supporting [your employee], otherwise things will go badly for him’”. This phone conversation never took place, not least because, I was ostracized by my co-workers at CMES and like others, Anders was not picking up my calls (not surprisingly, there was no written evidence, and neither Anders nor Andreas were interviewed by the faculty). Leaving aside the flimsy and childish nature of these allegations, the reason for this complaint could be to save Anders from potential spillovers, since he was at my house, drinking with students, the night the student passed out on my sofa.
Given these and other absurdities, I rejected all allegations and made sure that this was mentioned in the minutes of the meeting. I then rushed to hospital to be with my son. That afternoon, we were told that all treatment options were exhausted and that my son was going to be put under palliative care (Skåne University Hospital could be contacted for relevant medical records and dates). He died a month later.
In the meantime, I asked for the documents related to the investigation to use my right to appeal/reply.
On June 14, 2018, I was informed by Andréa that:
I am not really sure what you mean with your reply. There is no process of appealing in these processes. We have according to the Discrimination act and Work environmental act obligations in investigating cases within LU. This is from our perspective a work environmental issue. We assume that you, like the other party, have had the opportunity to tell your story for the external consultant. If you on other hand are filing a report of harassment for your case then it should be sent to us. I will send the documents today. Again, we must remind you of that these matters calls for caution, please think through consequences so that it is not harmful to the workplace nor work environment. I would also like to remind you of that, under no circumstances, it is allowed to subject reprisals in relation to those who reported you. Besides that, we see this matter ended from the employers point of view. (My italics)
The documents that were sent to me by post consisted of 13 pages.
The psycho-social investigation carried out by the Faculty of Social Sciences was shambolic, and a disgrace for an institution that boasts a long, glittering legacy. To sum up:
I was never informed about the nature and content of the allegations, hence I was denied my right to defend myself properly.
Available evidence was never shared with me, my union representatives and later my legal representatives during or after the investigation.
The allegations were not backed by evidence. In fact, what was submitted as evidence was rejected by the police which stated that “the information provided in the case does not give reason to assume that crimes that fall under public prosecution have been committed” (diarienr: 5000-K634062-20).
I was not allowed to take my union representative or my legal representative to the interviews with the external consultant.
The interviews and the final meeting were not recorded.
Neither the external consultant nor the faculty considered the exculpatory evidence I submitted during the investigation.
The report prepared by the external consultant was itself defamatory as it labelled the incident “stalking”, which is a crime according to Swedish penal code, hence can only be investigated by law enforcement agencies. As noted above, the police rejected the complaints of both your employee and the student without further investigation.
I was never informed about a complaint by Andreas Johansson. I was also not in a position to threaten him in any conceivable way.
I and my then union representative, Mattias Collin, were misled by Christofer Edling who told us that the complaint in question was not taken seriously by the faculty, hence was not investigated. He also assured us that this was not included in the final document.
The written reprimand was in Swedish. I was thus not able to read and comment on it until July 15, 2018. I was going to discover at that point that the complaint by Andreas Johansson was mentioned in the final document.
The final document states clearly that “it is not a punishment or disciplinary measure”, hence not subject to appeal. But it was worded in an extremely threatening tone.
As noted above, my request to reply to the accusations listed in the decision was met with threats and bullying.
Neither the faculty nor the external consultant accommodated my special circumstances, or what is referred to as “grievances” in customary law — in this case, my 5-year old son’s terminal illness — which might have required the investigation to be temporarily suspended. This personal predicament not only compromised my ability to defend myself, mentally as well as physically for I was commuting between Lund and Barcelona where my son was receiving treatment; it also prevented me from taking further actions against the university’s decision.
I was bullied and victimized during the investigation and in the final meeting by the external consultant and Christofer Edling.
There were references during the investigation and the final meeting to an incident that took place in 2013. There were several problems with this. First, that incident was already reviewed five years ago, in the presence of student representatives and the student ombudsman. Second, this incident was provoked by Dalia Abdelhady with whom I had a conflict of interest. Third, the complaint was not directed against me, but four instructors at CMES (including a gay person and Dalia Abdelhady herself); and as stated by Leif Stenberg, the then Director of CMES, in writing, the investigation concluded that there were no concrete allegations against me or any other person. And fourth, several students sent emails to Leif Stenberg expressing support for me. None of this was mentioned by the consultant or Christofer.
It is important to note in this context that the consultant held a Skype interview with Leif Stenberg and reported him saying I “wanted to have ‘disciples’”. As it was unlikely for Leif to say such a thing, I contacted him via email on June 7, 2018. He wrote the following:
What was said in the beginning of the interview on Skype was that she, the investigator talked to me to get the bigger picture. I did not understand that as her being on a mission to collect more evidence. Since we spoke in Swedish, I think her rendering is not entirely correct. I also said that you are a well-known and established scholar and that you attract students who would like to study with you. I think that is the context. All academics like to have disciples.
As noted by Stenberg who had no information about what transpired in 2017-2018, the faculty’s psycho-social investigation did not aim at finding the truth, but at punishing me. This is a direct violation of Lund University’s official guideline regarding “Handling and Investigating Cases of Harassment and Sexual Harassment” (published on November 15, 2016; revised and updated on January, 2017) which states that:
The concept of an investigation may be perceived as extensive, difficult and even threatening, but in this context, the investigation is about finding out what happened. Is it a case of harassment/sexual harassment, or did something else take place? It is not about identifying criminals or assigning punishment – such tasks are to be handled by our law enforcement authorities (police and courts).
On July 5, 2018, our son Luca Can Özkirimli-Larsson died at the age of 5.5.
Discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and gender
The report prepared by the external consultant was not only subjective and lacking in evidence, but also contained instances of direct and indirect discrimination as defined by the Discrimination Act (2008: 567). Examples include:
“The adaptations that need to be made from one cultural context to another do not seem to have been made fully”. This is discrimination on the basis of ethnic background since it assumes that I was not able to adapt to Swedish culture. It also constitutes discrimination on the basis of gender since the employee and the student were also from Turkey, but were considered to have adapted to Swedish culture, despite living in Sweden for less than six months.
“The conflict of interest that exists between the head of department and [me] makes this active leadership more difficult … This could also be a reason that [Umut] has been able to act without restriction”. This not only assumes that I acted without restriction — hence defamatory — but that I was the only who did so. Despite my and several other co-workers’ warnings, the former Director of CMES, Dalia Abdelhady, was never included in the investigation.
“The consultant recommends the management clarifies its position about the organisational culture”. Socializing with students outside working hours was common practice at CMES, and as far as I know, in other departments at Lund University, and the center itself organized social events with students where alcohol was served. Rather than taking this into account, the Faculty of Social Sciences scapegoated me and tried to make an example of me for what was a regular fixture of the organizational culture at CMES.
There is, however, a much more blatant way I was subjected to discrimination, and here it may be important to recall the definition of “direct discrimination” offered by the Discrimination Act: “that someone is disadvantaged by being treated less favourably than someone else is treated, has been treated or would have been treated in a comparable situation, if this disadvantaging is associated with sex, transgender identity or expression, ethnicity, religion or other belief, disability, sexual orientation or age”.
All co-workers knew that several official complaints have been filed by both students and fellow co-workers against Dalia Abdelhady. The material I obtained through Freedom of Information requests shows that Dalia Abdelhady was accused several times of mobbing, bullying, favouritism, victimization, retaliation, using students and junior colleagues for personal chores such as babysitting and walking her dogs, among others (see examples here). Dalia Abdelhady was never investigated or given a “written reprimand” for her actions despite accusations by different cohorts of students. On the contrary, she ended up being promoted by a committee which included Christofer Edling, and became the Director of CMES. This move took place against the wishes of CMES employees who had several meetings with Saco and the former Pro-Vice-Chancellor Bo Ahrén to inform them that they did not wish her to become director. Incidents of bullying and mobbing increased after Dalia became Director, and this led several members of staff, including myself, to take sick leave during the academic year 2017-2018 (the medical reports could be obtained from the Occupational Health Department).
All this was mentioned to the external consultant by myself and Spyros A. Sofos who was interviewed during the psycho-social investigation. The consultant’s response was — almost mockingly — that nobody complained about her. The fundamental question here is very simple: what counts as discrimination on the basis of gender? And how is gender identity defined by Lund University? The Discrimination Act talks about discrimination on the basis of sex, i.e. “that someone is a woman or man”. Does Lund University assume that only female or perhaps gender non-conforming people could be discriminated against? And how would the Discrimination Ombudsman have responded to these questions if I had been able to file a complaint before June 1, 2020?
Unfortunately, as I pointed out earlier, the final document was the beginning of a much more vicious campaign of harassment and defamation that continues to this day.
On September 19, 2018, I signed a sabbatical agreement with the Faculty of Social Sciences (I had already left Sweden in August 2018). The agreement stated that I was going to work as an ambassador for the Strategic Area “The Middle East in the Contemporary World” (MECW) and CMES in the academic year 2018-2019.
On October 1, 2018, your employee sent an email to the London School of Economics where I was a Research Associate at the time which stated the following:
I am writing this email to inform you about Dr Umut Ozkirimli, who is currently affiliated at the LSEE (Research on South-East Europe) within the European Institute at the London School of Economics. As an LSE alumni (PhD degree in Political Science from the Department of Government in 2017), I see it as my civic-duty and professional responsibility to report that Dr Ozkirimli has recently gone through an investigation on harassment/sexual harassment by Lund University where he works as a lecturer. The decision letter, which was sent to Dr Ozkirimli in June 2018, states that he “had threatened a colleague, harassed a colleague and exposed a student to an offensive treatment”.
The email was addressed to Simon Glendinning, the Director of the European Institute, and Kevin Featherstone, Eleftherios Venizelos Professor in Contemporary Greek Studies at the LSE. Vassilis Monastiriotis, the Director of LSEE, the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Office, and last but certainly not least, the Director of the LSE were also copied to this email. The employee was thus the first to contact Directors and Rectors, even though she was under no obligation to do so — a point that was stated in her criminal conviction as well.
I then found out that the two other institutions I was affiliated with, IWM (Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen) in Vienna and CIDOB (Barcelona Centre for International Affairs) in Barcelona, were also sent a similar email the same day. It was obvious that your employee and her friend were acting together and spreading information that was intended “to expose [me] to the contempt of others”. That was made crystal clear in a Facebook post your employee shared on February 19, 2019 (in English): “‘Sexual assault is not a crime of passion, it is about the abuse of power’, she [Sarah Ahmed] says, and ends by saying, ‘we will end your career.’ Oh yes. We will. He you, wanna take a screenshot of this one as well? (my italics)”. At that point, I decided to seek legal advice.
On October 8, 2018, your employee and the student sent text messages to a well-known journalist in Turkey who had interviewed me about the death of our son and the foundation we were planning to set up in his name to help kids with neuroblastoma. The messages asked her to cancel the publication of the interview.
During the same time period, I was informed about two more attempts to “cancel” me. First, a colleague from the UK, Daphne Halikiopoulou, told me that she was sent a copy of the faculty’s decision and asked not to collaborate with me in any research project (she provided an affidavit to be submitted to court on October 30, 2018). Second, a colleague from Turkey informed me that your employee was trying to add my name to the Academic Sexual Misconduct Database compiled by Julie Libarkin of Michigan State University. This information was relayed to my colleague by two different and unrelated female scholars based in the US (she also provided an affidavit to be submitted to Court on November 25, 2021).
On October 10, 2018, my then legal representative Olof Bexell sent a letter to Christofer Edling, listing the many problems with the psycho-social investigation carried out by the faculty and the “devastating consequences” this had on me. The letter also warned Lund University and its employees “to observe the required discretion” and reminded them of their duty to acknowledge my intellectual property rights. Bexell concluded by officially requesting that “all the documents that relate to the psychosocial inquiry about the alleged harassment” to be sent immediately.
On October 30, 2018, the Faculty replied to my legal representative with a letter co-signed by Christofer Edling and Katarina Broman, an employment lawyer at Lund University. In this letter, Christofer reiterated its belief in the integrity of the psycho-social investigation and avoided the issue of my intellectual property rights. The letter came with an annex of 13 pages, ostensibly “all the documents that relate to the psychosocial inquiry about the alleged harassment”. These were the same 13 pages that were sent to me.
On October 30, 2018, I filed a complaint of harassment to the Faculty of Social Sciences against your employee and the student (as I was still an employee of Lund University). In this complaint, I submitted copious amounts of evidence proving your employee’s ongoing systematic harassment on various social media platforms, the emails sent to the institutions I was affiliated with and several witness statements. In his reply sent to me on November 1, 2018, Christofer asked me whether I would like to press on with the charges against the student. I told him that I did not wish to harm a student’s career and withdrew my complaint. I was naïve enough to assume that this was going to be regarded as an act of good will.
On November 9, 2018, your employee filed a counter-complaint against me. This time, she claimed that I was “sexually harassing” her by telling people that we had a relationship (the relationship was known to all co-workers in Sweden as well as the mother of my son, and even referred to in the report prepared by the external consultant), that I was damaging her reputation by arguing that the Marie Curie project idea was mine (as noted above, this was something she herself stated), and that I tried to intimidate her by ordering books on death from Adlibris whose electronic invoice was mistakenly sent to her (I was not even aware of this until it was mentioned by the employee. As documented in court, this was a mistake by Adlibris and Klarna which both accepted their responsibility and apologized to me. The books were memoirs of cancer patients ordered a month after my son’s death as I was myself planning to write a memoir).
On November 12, 2018, Emma Ohlsson contacted me and asked if I would be available for an interview on November 19. I confirmed and bought my tickets to Sweden. At that point, I was based in Vienna.
On November 19, 2018, I received another email from Emma Ohlsson which informed me that the interview that was supposed to take place that day was cancelled in the last minute. I had already travelled to Sweden — which was itself a traumatic experience as this was the first time I’d been to Lund after my son’s death. Needless to say, I was not reimbursed for this unnecessary trip.
On December 6, 2018, I reminded Emma Ohlsson that it has been one month since I submitted my complaint of harassment, and asked for an update.
On January 23, 2019, I contacted Emma Ohlsson again, since almost three months had passed and no investigation was carried out in response to my complaint of harassment.
On January 28, 2019, exactly 98 days after I filed my complaint, I contacted Emma Ohlsson yet again and asked for an update — yet again.
On January 30, 2019, given the university’s deafening silence and wanton disregard for my fundamental rights as well as your employee’s escalating harassment, my legal representative, Sebastian Scheiman, sent a cease and desist letter to your employee, warning her that we would take legal action if she continues to slander me.
On February 8, 2019, I was informed that the university concluded the second investigation, without having a single meeting with me. The second decision was more surreal than the first. The report signed by Christofer Edling and Andréa Björk stated falsely that I was given “the opportunity to respond and give [my] views on what occurred” and considered the employee’s various attempts to “end my career” as part of her freedom of speech. The report also noted that “the investigation cannot determine whether there has been victimization. Nor can we see that the described behaviours/actions are harassment that is related to any of the provisions for discrimination under the Discrimination Act”.
Not surprisingly, the Faculty was not this charitable in its interpretation of the accusations directed at me. The documents I shared as part of my complaint were used against me as evidence of possible stalking (the fact that I had a legal representative who collated these materials was not taken into account; nor was this considered “stalking” when your employee did the same even though she had no access to any of my social media accounts). The report concluded by reminding me of the written reprimand given on June 1, 2018 — the reprimand that was neither a punishment nor a disciplinary measure, had no legal status, hence was rejected by me twice.
It was clear to me at that point that Lund University had no intention to even pretend to respect existing laws and regulations: (i) misrepresenting and circulating confidential documents, (ii) contacting the institutions I was affiliated with, (iii) reaching out to third parties — not friends and acquaintances but journalists and colleagues, (iv) sharing defamatory posts on social media, (v) trying to add my name to an international database of convicted sexual offenders were not, to use Andréa Björk’s words, matters that call for caution.
Between 2018 and 2019, your employee continued to slander me, again both through private channels and publicly, sharing various defamatory posts on Facebook and Twitter. In these posts, your employee refrained from mentioning me by name, but offered very detailed descriptions which left little room for imagination (a Turkish academic who used to work at Istanbul Bilgi University before coming to Sweden, continues to do academic work under different titles in different countries, claiming to be the student of such and such feminist professors, etc.).
In another post (in English), she stated her aims very clearly: “You don’t slander a harasser, you publicly shame him. This is what I failed to do, to openly shame him. And what universities should do to stop this violence is not conducting research on gender inequality or sexual harassment, but to actually take the necessary action. Otherwise, it is all hypocrisy. And I am personally fed up with this attitude. #metoo” (my italics).
On December 20, 2019, I had a meeting with Christofer Edling, Emma Ohlsson and my then union representative Adam Brenthel, and reached a mutual agreement to terminate my employment at Lund University. As explained by Christofer in a letter he wrote on June 10, 2020, this was partly a result of the decision to reorganize CMES:
Dr Ozkirimli spent the academic year 2018/2019 on paid sabbatical leave, under agreement that he represent Lund University and CMES in all external communications and publications. In September 2019, it was decided that CMES should be reorganized. A significant aspect of the reorganization of this unit is that all employment contracts should either be transferred to regular departments within Lund University or terminated through other agreements. In October 2019, I immediately started to negotiate such transfers with Heads of Departments and other Faculty Deans. In our discussions it became clear that I was not able to meet Dr Ozkirimli’s requests, and he decided to leave Lund University as of 31 March 2020.
On March 31, 2020, my employment at Lund University came to an end.
On April 23, 2020, Emrah Gülsunar, a doctoral student at Lund University’s Department of Economic History, claimed on Twitter that I have been kicked out of Lund University for harassing “several women”.
On April 28, 2020, your employee shared a Facebook post which identified me without mentioning my name, referring to information that was available only to the followers of my social media accounts, e.g. that I was working on a book on #MeToo, that I posted selfies with feminist scholars like Judith Butler and Nira Yuval-Davis, and calling me “despicable”. I didn’t bother informing the university for using “the internet and social media to follow, contact, and locate the victim” and to do so “systematically, for a longer period of time” even if “experienced as uncomfortable or threatening” was not a problem unless perpetrated by men.
On May 13, 2020, your employee shared a series of tweets lamenting the fact that I was not sacked from my job and referred to me as a “serial harasser”.
On May 15, 2020, noting the increasing frequency of defamatory social media posts (and the sharing of the same claims by other parties at Lund University, notably Emrah Gülsunar) in the wake of the mutual decision to terminate my employment at Lund University, we sent a second cease and desist letter to your employee and another one to Emrah Gülsunar.
On May 20, 2020, the Discrimination Ombudsman (DO) reached a conclusion regarding a complaint made by your employee. I was not aware of this complaint until she tweeted about it on June 1, 2020. After evaluating the documents submitted to them by Lund University, the Ombudsman decided that there was no violation of the Discrimination Act in the 2018 and 2019 investigations. Needless to say, this decision simply stated the obvious on the basis of the documents provided by the university: your employee was indeed interviewed within the period of time specified in LU guidelines in the second investigation, and she had been given a chance to defend her claims. Was the DO aware that I was never interviewed by the faculty or an external consultant or were they told by I was given “the opportunity to respond and give [my] views on what occurred”? Did your legal team share all the documents I submitted as part of my complaint? Does the DO think that following someone’s social media accounts is problematic only when it is carried out by a man? Did the DO also consider the following as “freedom of speech”? “I was made aware of his tweets about how he has helped academics from Turkey and he was disappointed, how he was on a sabbatical (which does not exist in Swedish academia), how he liked having an office in different cities like the sailor who has a girl in every port, how he has posted, shamelessly, about the #metoo movement as a harasser himself. Nonetheless, these are his posts and I have nothing to share about them in my complaint letter” (my italics). Would this be treated the same way if I — a male employee — shared them? And does the DO agree that contacting the institutions someone is affiliated with or journalists and colleagues to “cancel” this person does not constitute an act of harassment?
These question marks notwithstanding, the DO stated in its decision that “no further harassment or sexual harassment” had taken place since 2018. This part of the decision was withheld from the court, in fact even from your employee’s legal representative, probably because it refuted the employee’s main allegation, i.e. that she was being “(sexually) harassed” for 2,5 years.
On May 29, 2020, your employee filed a new complaint to the police which was rejected on June 1, 2020, on the grounds that “the information provided in the case does not give reason to assume that crimes that fall under public prosecution have been committed” (diarienr: 5000-K634062-20).
On June 1, 2020, your employee posted a series of nine tweets on Turkish Twitter, together with an excerpt of the document given by the Faculty of Social Sciences in June 2018. In these tweets, your employee claimed that she has been exposed to continuous harassment for 2,5 years, misleadingly presenting the university’s decision as a legally binding document, a punishment and a disciplinary measure. As it became clear within a few hours, this was a premeditated and well-coordinated move, building on the ongoing campaign of online harassment. My name was not mentioned as such, but the information provided was of such a nature that it was not difficult to identify me; hence it did not take long for my name to be mentioned openly by several Twitter users — some of them close friends of your employee. The tweets, deliberately couched in the language of #MeToo, went viral: the first tweet of the series was retweeted or commented on 1.100 times and got 3.400 “likes”.
It is important to pause here for a moment and recall Lund University’s official guidelines regarding “Handling and Investigating Cases of Harassment and Sexual Harassment” which states that “In order to protect the affected parties you have the possibility to apply a confidentiality procedure when registering documents. This means that the case can only be shown to the administrators of the document registration system”. I made this request several times, from March 22, 2018 onwards, the day the original complaint was filed. Unfortunately, the decision and other documents related to the psycho-social investigation have been shared with anybody but me, including a news platform followed by millions of people — by an administrator who was supposed to apply the confidentiality procedure no less.
As befits the broader dynamics of social media, and thanks to the purposefully vague or misleading information provided by your employee, the false allegation of “stalking” soon morphed into “harassment” and “sexual harassment”, and I was branded a “serial sexual harasser” and a “perpetrator of violence” (at the peak of the campaign, I was even accused of being a “potential killer” who may have killed your employee had she not gone public). The campaign soon travelled to other social media platforms, notably Facebook, and spilled over to my family.
On June 2 and 3, 2020, your employee interacted with two academics, Selim Sazak and Burak Kadercan, and a journalist, Funda Dörtkaş, who identified me, confirming once again that I was the target of her accusations. These Twitter exchanges continued in the following days. My name became a “trending topic“ on Turkish Twitter briefly. At this point, I started getting death threats. And my friends and acquaintances have also been exposed to online harassment.
On June 4, 2020, pro-government media joined the pile-on. My name and pictures were all over newspapers, online news platforms, private and public TV stations. Journalists and academics affiliated with the Turkish government accused me of being a “terrorist” affiliated with the movement led by the Pennsylvania-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen who is held responsible for the failed coup attempt against the AKP government in 2016. Sweden took its share of the accusations, of course, and was blamed for failing to protect “our sister”, a victim of harassment. Given the severity of the charges, I decided not to go to Turkey to visit my family since hundreds of thousands of people allegedly affiliated with the Gülen movement have been imprisoned since 2016.
On June 5, 2020, the Turkish Republic Istanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office started an official investigation about the allegations (investigation number 2020.169957). This investigation was widely reported in pro-government media. Your employee did not comment on or distance herself from the investigation.
The same day, an anonymous user wrote a tweet in Spanish about the allegations and tagged my current employer. Two other institutions I was affiliated with were contacted via email and several co-workers in Spain have been subject to peer pressure to stop collaborating with me.
Again the same day, the student (and friend of your employee) posted a Twitter thread accusing me of “sexually harassing” her, tampering with the university’s decision to create the impression that there was a separate decision against me.
In the evening of June 5, 2020, I published a public statement prepared by my lawyers in Turkey, and categorically denied all the allegations. In this statement, I also filled in the gaps purposefully omitted by your employee, e.g. that this campaign was related to a relationship which ended bitterly, that I was forced to step down from an EU project based on my original idea, that we had a functioning personal and professional relationship during the time she accused me of “stalking” (she was using my car; asking me to pay her bills from my bank account — in return for cash; introduced me to her mother visiting from Turkey, and so on).
On June 6, 2020, your employee lashed back at my public statement, denying that we ever had a relationship, and that I “forced” her into a relationship under the guise of helping her to move to Sweden and began “harassing” her when she said “no”. There is no need to dwell much on the merit of these claims given the public nature of our relationship which started in April 2017 and went on until November 2017 (and mentioned in all relevant official documents).
On June 8, 2020, your employee sent the above-mentioned letter to the European Commission.
On June 26, 2020, the campaign was carried to a whole new level with the publication of a statement by your employee’s new lawyers, Selin Nakıpoğlu, Yelda Koçak, Funda Ekin, Diren Cevahir Şen (all well-known feminist activists) who claimed — incorrectly — that the state prosecutor in Sweden launched an investigation upon the complaint of your employee. In this statement, I was also accused of perpetrating “violence” against their clients.
On August 6, 2020, we made a second public announcement and published a small sample of documents which refuted your employee’s and her lawyers’ claims, including the most recent statement that I was being investigated in Sweden. Since I was subject to what is often referred to “trial by social media” and presumed to be guilty, the media ignored this announcement and the broader public continued to assume that the allegations were true.
The consequences of this defamation campaign were devastating. Dozens of interviews and op-eds were published on what was widely considered to be “Turkish academia’s #MeToo moment”; this was followed by debates, podcasts and vlogs on both pro-government and independent media outlets where I was misleadingly presented as a “convicted criminal”. 488 academics from Turkey signed a petition called “Stop masculinist academia”, first published on June 25, 2022. My Wikipedia entry was amended to include a section called “Controversies” where I was presented as a “sexual harasser”. And the Arab television broadcaster Al-Jazeera contacted your employee, asking her if she wanted to write an op-ed regarding “her experience of harassment”.
The spill over to my family was worse. First, the Turkish publisher of the memoir on my son’s struggle with cancer contacted me and said that they cannot publish the book anymore, given the nature of the allegations. Second, the Swedish producer and Danish director of the documentary we were shooting on the different ways in which we, as a family, were coping with grief had to cancel the project (the cancellations of these projects took place over the phone and online meetings; testimonies available upon request). Third, several social media users besmirched the memory of my dead son. The above-mentioned journalist, Funda Dörtkaş, who had written a piece on my son in the wake of his death shared the following tweet: “Sorry for intervening, but as I told [your employee], I had written an article after [his son’s] death without knowing any of this. From what I’ve learned yesterday and today, I understand that our sensitivity to his health issue has also been exploited. Over a child. This was neither the first harassment nor the last”. It is important to note at this point that no other woman have come forward in the 2,5 years that elapsed since your employee’s tweets posted her tweets — and this, despite the fact that I was already in an extremely vulnerable position. Some went so far as to claim that the money we raised through a crowd funder we organized in 2016 was used to cover my legal expenses. This was what a user wrote to Ekşi Sözlük, the Turkish equivalent of Urban Dictionary:
The academic whom I followed on social media during his son Luca’s fight with neuroblastoma and whose suffering I shared like thousands of others. I have even made a modest contribution to the campaign he launched to take his son to a clinical trial, so did my friends. They announced that they would donate the money to children’s cancer foundations if the treatment fails or if they couldn’t take him to treatment for some reason. Now I am hearing he’s been harassing all these women by even manipulating his son’s condition; this is chilling me out and I cannot help but thinking, did they donate the money? Even though I’ve been following him regularly, I don’t recall a statement as to how this money has been used. When I read the allegations, I keep thinking. I hope he really donated the money. But I also think that if he had, he would have announced it. The other alternative is too horrifying to think. (That the money was donated to Barncancerfonden had been announced in the wake of his death.)
On November 12, 2020, we filed a civil suit against your employee for defamation and gross defamation. The trial date was set to be May 3, 2021.
On April 29, 2021, I travelled from Spain to Sweden to attend the trial in person. The trip took almost 12 hours because of the pandemic.
On 30 April, 2021, the last working day before the trial, your employee’s legal representative asked for the trial to be postponed, claiming that they needed more time to check the translations of your employee’s tweets into Swedish. This was yet another unnecessary trip to Sweden, and like the previous one, it cost me dearly financially and psychologically.
On September 27, 2021, the trial was held in Lund. In addition to me and your employee, Erika Larsson and Christofer Edling were called as witnesses. The testimonies and cross-examinations could be accessed here and here.
On October 13, 2021, the Lund District Court Criminal Division found the defendant guilty on 7 out of 11 counts of gross defamation and defamation. The decision stated that the defendant was convicted to a “conditional sentence” (villkorlig dom) in addition to paying fines, which meant that she was going to get a harsher punishment if she committed the same crime again. Both sides appealed the decision.
Between October 21, 2021 and December 12, 2021, a series of articles were published on T24, the leading online news platform in Turkey with 1.7 million followers. The series consisted of 7 articles — a total 150 pdf pages and 33.940 words — and included, among other things, material that was submitted to the Court of Appeals a week before. The articles also contained private conversations between me and your employee. The author claimed that she got these from the court. This information was incorrect as these conversations were never submitted to court.
In one of the articles, the author also claimed — quite vaguely — that these private conversations were first made public in 2018, for they were submitted to the Faculty of Social Sciences during the first investigation. The material in question amounted to 86 pages; as might be recalled, I and my previous lawyer Olof Bexell were only provided 13-pages of evidence which were presented to us as “all the documents that relate to the psychosocial inquiry about the alleged harassment”.
On October 28, 2021, my current lawyer Sebastian Scheiman sent an email to Andréa Björk asking her about these extra 86 pages. Andréa replied the same day and told Sebastian that they are not aware of any such file.
On November 1, 2021, Sebastian sent another email, requesting all the documents related to the investigations conducted by the faculty.
On November 8, 2021, Andréa responded to this email, saying that there was indeed an 86-pages document which consisted of Whatsapp and Messenger conversations!
On November 9, 2021, Sebastian contacted Andréa again, reminding her that “most of this has never reached either [me] or my former legal representative Olof Bexell despite an official request from Olof Bexell”, asked her how could this be possible, and whether the information she provided on October 28, 2021, was incorrect.
On November 10, 2021, Andréa Björk wrote the following. This message is “untranslatable” so I will quote the original:
Hej, Vi har du kikat i arkivet och i diariet. Troligtvis ar det sa att arkiveringen skett mycket senare an diarieföring och att handlingar som inkommit lopande inte lag i diariet utan antogs ligga dar nar det var dags for arkivering. Summa summarum det du har fatt ar allt i arendena. Dock finns ingen 86 sidor lang messenger/chatt som efterfragades i den forsta fragan fran er. Mvh Andréa
This is possibly the clearest admission of the violation of my constitutional right of public access to official documents, a right that has been violated 3 times within 5 years, despite official requests by myself and two of my legal representatives.
On November 12, 2021, we asked the faculty to provide us an official letter stating the following:
I have never been provided with the full set of evidence against me — including the private conversations that were currently being used to slander me.
The Faculty did not provide this material to my former legal representative Olof Bexell despite an official legal request on October 10, 2018.
The Faculty did not provide this material to my current legal representative Sebastian Scheiman despite an official request on 28 October 2021. In fact, Andréa Björk misled Sebastian by claiming that no such document existed.
The original file which consists of 86-pages was submitted to Sebastian Scheiman only on 8 November 2021, precisely 1327 days after the initial complaint has been filed.
We never received a response.
On May 8, 2022, your employee gave a testimony as part of an investigation conducted by the Chief Prosecutor of the Turkish Republic. She accused the Swedish police of not letting her down and asked the prosecutor to indict me.
On June 8-9, 2022, the appeal trial was held in Malmö.
On June 23, 2022, the Court of Appeals of Skåne and Blekinge found your employee guilty on 3 counts of gross defamation and 1 count of defamation.
On June 25, 2022, your employee announced the decision on Twitter, claiming that I “technically lost” the case.
On June 28, 2022, in response to this gross distortion of truth and your employee’s never ending attempts to slander me, I prepared two videos exposing the lies she told under oath during the trial in Lund District Court. These videos consist of a replay of your employee’s full testimony, interjected with the screenshots of the evidence we provided in court (in Turkish with English subtitles, see here and here). All documents used in these videos have been made public in November 2020. Most were also presented — but ignored — to the Faculty of Social Sciences in 2018 and 2019 respectively.
On January 6, 2023, the state prosecutor in Turkey dismissed our criminal claim about the T24 articles, stating — among other things — that these private conversations were already made public, hence did not constitute a violation of my right to privacy. The decision also contained a reference to an envelope sent by Lund University to the news platform which published these articles. When we accessed the file submitted by the defendant, we discovered an email exchange between the author and Andréa Björk, dated November 4-5, 2022, and an invoice dated November 19, 2022, with Andréa Björk as “reference” of the sender.
Infringement of intellectual property rights
As pointed out on various occasions earlier, (i) the original idea for the Marie Curie FIRE project was mine. Your employee herself confirmed this during a conversation we had the day we decided to apply for the project, (ii) I co-authored the proposal, (iii) I introduced her to new supervisor Petter Pilesjö and co-investigator Lina Eklund, (iv) I was forced to withdraw from the project on March 7, 2018. In the wake of your employee’s complaint for harassment, I asked for my intellectual property rights on the project to be acknowledged several times. Here are just a few examples.
On March 9, 2018, I informed CMES via email that I am stepping down from the Marie Curie project with the following words: “Even though there is still time, and the project is my child as much as [your employee’s], I think it would be best for me to step down as [her] supervisor. She was already looking into the ways of doing it”.
On March 21, 2018, before the complaint of harassment was filed by your employee, I contacted the European IPR Helpdesk and inquired about my rights as the supervisor of a Marie Curie project without sharing any details as to the reasons of my decision to step down. The Helpdesk informed me that the results of the research conducted within the framework of the project belongs to the host institution, in this case Lund University. I was also told that “Should the project be earned out with a new supervisor, we do not believe anything in the Grant Agreement explicitly prohibits that there be an acknowledgement of your contribution to this research project“. Needless to say, the project was not earned out with a new supervisor; it was conducted with a new supervisor. I never had any claims on the findings of the research which was carried out under Petter Pilesjö’s supervision. I invite your employee or the Faculty to provide evidence that I did.
On April 17, 2018, your employee wrote an email to Anneli Wiklander, a Research Funding Advisor at Lund University’s Research Services, expressing her discontent with the way in which the change of supervisory arrangements were handled:
I do not agree in (sic) the way of putting the justification this way. I have already filed a harassment complaint about him and I do not find it honest/correct to just avoid that. I understand that his son is ill but this is not the reason why I am removing him from supervision.
The wording of this email says a lot. First, your employee thinks that she has the right to remove me from my position as supervisor of the project. Second, she does not mention the fact that she forced me to withdraw from the position by threatening to file a complaint of harassment. Third, she speaks of my son’s terminal illness in a matter-of-factly way, i.e. as if that’s a minor inconvenience to be dealt with before she could carry on with the project. Finally, by sending this email to a third party, she violates the rules and regulations of the university on the need for confidentiality.
On April 9, 2018, Christofer told me that the Marie Curie project will continue as planned, “and that in this process your worries about intellectual property rights should be taken very seriously”.
On September 4, 2018, I sent a detailed official request to the faculty for the acknowledgement of my intellectual property rights. In this request, I reminded Christofer that Marie Curie Individual Fellowships are not awarded to an individual researcher alone, but also to a supervisor and an institution; that The Guide for Applicants states that the project is carried out by the researcher under the supervision of an experienced researcher — at the time of application myself, defined as follows: “The Supervisor is the scientist appointed at the beneficiary to supervise the researcher throughout the whole duration of the action”; that the supervisor’s “CV is intrinsic to the evaluation of the whole proposal and is assessed throughout the three evaluation criteria by the expert evaluators”; that “in case of disagreement between supervisor and researcher, the supervisor’s opinion prevails”.
In addition to these, I noted that:
The European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity, a legal document binding all research institutions in Europe, states that “Researchers, research institutions and organisations ensure that any contracts or agreements relating to research outputs include equitable and fair provision for the management of their use, ownership, and/or their protection under intellectual property rights”.
Failure to acknowledge my intellectual contribution could be considered as a form of plagiarism by the principal researcher, defined by the Code as “using other people’s work and ideas without giving proper credit to the original source, thus violating the rights of the original author(s) to their intellectual outputs”.
The Code also cites “Accusing a researcher of misconduct or other violations in a malicious way” as one form of violation of research integrity (p. 8). When this occurs, “In their most serious forms, unacceptable practices are sanctionable, but at the very least every effort must be made to prevent, discourage and stop them through training, supervision and mentoring and through the development of a positive and supportive research environment”.
Finally, I informed the faculty of my correspondence with the European Intellectual Property Rights Helpdesk (IPHR) which stated that there is nothing in the Grant Agreement that “explicitly prohibits that there be an acknowledgement of (my) contribution to this research project”.
On October 10, 2018, after more than a month, Christofer replied to this official request by simply noting that he “appreciates” my detailed comments, and reiterated his commitment to the acknowledgement of my intellectual property rights:
Firstly, I have talked to Petter, and reminded Dalia, about the importance that your intellectual contribution to the project design be acknowledged. And it is my expectation that we will find a solution that makes clear your contribution … I would very much appreciate if you refrain from any further interference with the MC project. Petter is trying hard to manage this project under what is a rather delicate situation.
The rest of the story is already told.
On October 10, 2018, my then legal representative Olof Bexell reminded the faculty of their duty to acknowledge my intellectual property rights.
On March 13, 2019, Christofer removed my name from the FIRE project in Lucris.