On April 19, 2021, Turkish prosecutors indicted 97 people who joined student protests at Boğaziçi University on February 1, 2021, seeking jail terms of six months to three years.
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 February 1, students, faculty, and activists gathered to protest at Bogaziči University, holding signs and chanting slogans outside the university entrance. 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. Police reportedly barred protesters outside the campus from entering the university and ultimately detained 108 of them (see report).
Prepared by prosecutor Sinan Çelik and accepted by Istanbul’s 32nd Penal Court of First Instance, the indictment issued on April 19 demands 97 defendants, all of whom were detained during the February 1 protest, be charged with violating Law no. 2911, “attending unlawful meetings and marches unarmed and refusing to disperse by themselves despite warnings.”
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the prosecution of students and others in apparent retaliation for the alleged nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly—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 an obligation to refrain from restricting the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, so long as they are nonviolent and responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, prosecutions intended to restrict or retaliate against expressive activity, when directed against members of the higher education community, undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.