On February 1, 2021, Turkish police detained 159 students, faculty, and others peacefully protesting at and around the Bogaziči University campus.
Since early January, students and faculty have held frequent protests in response to a controversial rector appointment by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Police have used force and arrested demonstrators in many of the protests.
During the February 1 protest, students, faculty, and activists outside the higher education community gathered for another day of protests. Sources described a heavy police presence in and around the university, including barricades intended to restrict protest activities. Earlier that day, the Istanbul governor’s office ordered a month-long ban on protest activities, citing the Bogaziči University demonstrations in a press release.
Protesters who gathered for the demonstration held signs and chanted slogans, including about the police presence on campus. Police reportedly barred protesters outside the campus from entering the university and ultimately detained 108 of them. Students and faculty inside the campus were reportedly not allowed to exit the campus to join the other protesters and, eventually, demonstrated in front of the rector’s office. Police detained 51 of those protesters that night. As of February 2, authorities had released 98 of the detained protesters.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about detention of students, scholars, and others, apparently intended to restrict their 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. While state authorities have a right to maintain public order, they 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 response to peaceful expressive activity on campus undermines academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.