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 07, 2021

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances | Imprisonment

Institution(s):Boğaziçi University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On October 7, 2021, police detained 14 Boğaziçi University students who had gathered to protest the detention of two students arrested the previous day.

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.

On October 7, BU students gathered at BU’s campus to protest Naci İnci’s appointment, as well as the court-ordered arrest of two of their peers the day before (see report). Police prevented the students from entering the campus and arrested eight students. At the gate of BU’s south campus, a group of students attempted to hold a press conference, when police interrupted, using their shields to prevent journalists from taking pictures and videos of the students. Police reportedly used violent force against the student and journalists, and arrested six students. Erdinç Yılmaz, a journalist from Halk TV, reportedly sustained injuries from the police violence. One of the arrested students, Mısra Sapan of Istanbul University, alleged that police punched her in the face and continued to punch and kick her when she collapsed on the ground. Sapan’s lawyer reported that police continued to beat Sapan and her peers while they were in custody, and that they will file a criminal complaint on that basis.

After students were brought to the police station, police reportedly released ten of them. The remaining four, including Sapan, were referred to the Istanbul Palace of Justice in Çağlayan on a charge of “violating the law on meetings and demonstration marches.” The court ordered their release on judicial control, including a travel ban.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of force and arrests against 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, violence, detentions, and travel restrictions in response to peaceful student expression undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.