On September 27, 2021, university security guards detained nine Dokuz Eylül University (DEU) students at their graduation ceremony. The students were wearing masks that read, “#IstanbulConvention.”
The Istanbul Convention is an international treaty aimed at addressing violence against women and domestic violence. Turkey was the first country to sign the convention, in 2011, but announced its withdrawal in March 2021, claiming the treaty was being used to “normalize homosexuality.” The DEU students wearing the masks in support of the Istanbul Convention also opened up Bi+ and LGBTQ+ flags during the ceremony. Security guards interrupted the ceremony, forcibly confiscated the flags and masks, and beat the students before removing them from the stage.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of force by security guards in response to nonviolent student expression—conduct that is protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Instruments and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Turkey is a party. State and university authorities have an obligation to ensure the security of higher education communities and to refrain from violent or disproportionate actions in response to nonviolent expressive activity. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such actions undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.