On January 2, 2020, Turkish police reportedly used force during a student protest at Istanbul University (IU) over a recently announced hike in meal costs.
The protest was in response to a decision announced by the IU administration on December 31, 2019, to limit the number of meals served in the cafeterias and the average price of student meals. Previously, IU students were able to eat three meals per day for 3.5 liras per meal.
On January 2, IU students prepared a petition to protest the rise in meal prices. Dozens of students gathered in front of the main gate of the university where they read a statement and attempted to collect more signatures. When students attempted to climb over the main gate, which was apparently locked shut, in order to hand their petition to IU’s rector, police in riot gear intervened, pushing students away from the gate. According to video evidence, most students appeared to follow the police order to back away from the gates; however, at least one police officer began swinging his baton at students while several others began shoving students.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about police use of force in response to nonviolent student expression — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Turkey in a party. While state authorities have a responsibility to maintain security and order, they also have an obligation to ensure that their actions are proportionate, do not harm members of the higher education community, and are not undertaken to restrict or retaliate against peaceful expressive activity. Such incidents undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.