SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: June 30, 2019

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):Middle East Technical University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On June 30, 2019, authorities arrested four students from the Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, apparently to prevent them from engaging in non-violent expressive activity at the university’s graduation ceremony. Authorities released the students later that night.

METU is reportedly well known in Turkey for its tradition of left-wing student expression that has often been critical of the Turkish government and its policies. In July 2018, four METU students were arrested and charged with “insulting the president” after they participated in a graduation ceremony tradition of carrying banners denouncing recent political events in the country (see report). The banner reportedly contained satirical images of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other government officials. Those students were released in August 2018.

On the day of METU’s 2019 graduation ceremony, police reportedly arrested METU students Meziyet Yıldız, Emrecan Konyalı, Melike Balkan, and Fırat Çağlar Karabulut during early morning raids. Police also reportedly confiscated several banners from the students’ homes. Students claim they missed their 6:30 PM graduation ceremony as they were held in custody until 10:30 PM, when police released them after recording their statements.

Authorities reportedly accused the students of “propagandizing for a terrorist organization.” A lawyer representing one of the students has reportedly claimed that an unnamed individual sent a notice to authorities via email on June 26 stating that the students had caused “trouble” in the past and that “actions” should be taken. The same lawyer also stated that a court issued an order on June 29 approving the raids on the students’ homes.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary detention of students in connection to nonviolent expressive activity – conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Turkey is a party. State authorities have a responsibility to refrain from interfering in students’ peaceful expressive activities. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom, freedom of expression, and democratic society generally.