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: January 08, 2021

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):Middle East Technical University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On January 8, 2021, police detained 15 students peacefully protesting in support of Boğaziçi University (BU) students in Ankara. 

On January 1, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appointed new rectors to five universities. These included appointing Melih Bulu, a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), as the new rector of BU. BU faculty condemned the appointment, stating that it violated BU’s autonomy, academic freedom, and democratic values. On January 4, hundreds of BU students and faculty boycotted online classes and held a protest against the appointment. Police used force, including the use of tear gas and rubber bullets, and arrested demonstrators in the protests. 

Students called for a protest and public statement in Kızılay Güvenpark in Ankara in support of the protests at BU. Students were walking to Güvenpark when police intervened on İzmir Street, blocking students from reaching the planned site of the protest. Middle East Technical University (METU) Defensive, a student group present at the protest, tweeted photos and video and reported that 15 students had been detained. Video shows police forces forcing student protesters to the ground and detaining them. 

Sources also indicate that police had also stationed themselves outside of students’ houses and detained two students who attempted to leave to attend the protest. Police continued to wait outside of students’ houses and monitor students suspected of going to attend the protest.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary detention of students in an apparent effort to restrict the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — 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 is a party. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from restricting or retaliating against expressive activities and assemblies so long as they are peaceful and responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, the use of detentions in order to restrict peaceful student expression undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.