On January 4, 2017, seven students from Dokuz Eylül University were reportedly beaten by private security forces, taken into custody and arrested by police, after they publicly read a statement on campus calling for increased secularism in Turkey.
The students’ statement was issued in response to the New Year’s Eve attack in Istanbul, in which 39 people were killed. A partial translation of the students’ statement reads as follows:
“These are people who are trying to make our lives miserable with their massacres. But enough is enough. We are not going to allow ISIS members and jihadist gangs in our neighbourhood anymore. It’s enough. There is a flag which we need to unfurl against bigotry. That is the flag of secularism. Secularism, freedom, fraternity mean the struggle for humane life. We urge everybody to be a soldier of this struggle and to call bigots, fascists and presidential system lovers to account. Thank you for listening.”
The students are reportedly charged with “inciting people to hate and hostility” under Article 216 of the Turkish Penal Code, a charge that carries a potential prison sentence of up to three years. The students were released from custody on January 5, one day after they were detained.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the on-campus arrest and detention of students, as well as violence committed in the course of such arrest, in retaliation for non-violent expressive activity – conduct which is explicitly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. State officials have a responsibility not to interfere with the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association, and academic freedom, so long as they are exercised peacefully and responsibly. Arrests, prosecutions, and violence aimed at limiting student expression undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally. State officials have an obligation to comply with internationally recognized standards of free expression, due process and fair trial.