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: September 19, 2021

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances | Imprisonment

Institution(s):Middle East Technical University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On September 19, 2021, police reportedly arrested five students participating in a demonstration against Middle East Technical University (METU) rector, Verşan Kök.

In 2016, after a METU presidential election in which Kök came in second, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appointed Kök as the rector. Since then, students have held a number of protests against Kök’s appointment and policies.

On September 2, 2021, Kök announced in an email that METU’s graduation ceremony would not be held at its usual location, the Devrim Stadium, due to a pattern of protests held during graduation in prior years.

On September 19, students organized their own graduation ceremony titled “Graduation at Devrim without the Trustee.” Students brought banners and posters pertaining to a variety of national and local issues, including critiques of Kök. A number of undercover police officers stood at the gates of the stadium, reviewing students’ IDs, conducting background checks, and searching students’ property and removing banners and posters they deemed “political.” One group of five students objected to a police search;another group began filming the officers. In response, the officers reportedly shoved the students to the ground and arrested them. Police brought the students to a hospital for a medical check before bringing them to a police station. The students were released later that day.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about violence against, and arbitrary detention of, students peacefully exercising their 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, violence and detention in response to peaceful student expression undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.