On April 1, 2021, Turkish police detained at least 35 protesters, mostly students, who gathered in Istanbul’s Kadıköy district demanding the release of Boğaziçi University students under house arrest.
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.
On April 1, students were expected to hold a protest in Kadıköy, standing against police brutality and the Boğaziçi University rector appointment, and demanding the release of students under house arrest for their participation in prior protests. After news of the planned protest circulated, a local government official issued a ban on all public gatherings, citing concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the official’s order, students and others held the protest as planned. Sources, including videos posted to Twitter, indicate that riot police used force to disperse the protesters and pushed a number of protesters to the ground. Police arrested at last 35 protesters for violating Law no. 2911 on Meetings and Gatherings. Those arrested were given medical examinations and taken to İstanbul Security Directorate, where they gave statements regarding the charges and were later released.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary detention of students and other members of the public peacefully exercising 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 bans on gatherings and detentions in response to peaceful student expression undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.