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: October 04, 2021

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution | Loss of Position

Institution(s):Boğaziçi University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On October 4, 2021, police detained ten Boğaziçi University students participating in a protest on campus.

Beginning in January 2021, students and faculty across Turkey held protests in response to the controversial appointment of Melih Bulu to the position of rector of Boğaziçi University, by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Police used force and arrested demonstrators in many of the protests. Erdoğan eventually removed Bulu as rector of BU and, on August 20, appointed then-acting rector Professor Mehmet Naci İnci to the rector position permanently. This latest appointment triggered additional protests by students and faculty. When an internal poll was conducted over Inci’s appointment, 83% of the faculty turned out, and 95% of those voting opposed the appointment.

During an October 4 protest, a group of about 60 BU students reportedly blocked Naci İnci’s car, preventing it from leaving the BU campus. One student reportedly jumped on top of the roof of Naci Inci’s car, and was forcibly removed by police. Police detained a total of ten students for their participation in the protest.

At the police station, police reportedly released three of the students after taking their statements. The remaining seven were referred to the İstanbul Courthouse in Çağlayan. Four of those students were reportedly released on judicial control while the other three were referred to the İstanbul Penal Judgeship of Peace on Duty. On October 6, the court ordered the arrest of two of the remaining students, and the release of one under judicial control.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the detention of students in apparent retaliation of the nonviolent 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. 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, detentions in response to peaceful student expression undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.

UPDATE: According to Bianet, 14 students involved in the protests were eventually named in an indictment calling for their imprisonment on “charges of ‘unarmed attendance to unlawful meetings and demonstrations and refusal to disperse by oneself despite warnings’, ‘deprivation of liberty of more than one person due to public duty’, ‘resisting to prevent fulfillment of duty’ and ‘hijacking or deforcing land vehicles.’” Two of those students – Ersin Berke Gök and Caner Perit Özen – reportedly could be sentenced to up to 32 years in prison if convicted.

Gök and Özen were arrested on October 6, 2021 and held in pretrial detention until a January 7, 2022 hearing on the case, at which point the court ordered that they be released and placed under an international travel ban and other judicial restrictions. They were reportedly subjected to prolonged solitary confinement. The other 12 students were placed under an international travel ban beginning in October 2021. Over a dozen students were also reportedly suspended in the months following the protest.

During the second hearing in the case, which was held on March 21, 2022, the judge reportedly sought to expel one of the students’ lawyers, Ömer Kavili, from the courtroom and to replace the students’ entire legal team.