On June 2, 2023, police forcibly dispersed a group of Ege University students and others during a press conference at the Izmir Bar Association. The students were releasing a statement addressing the cancellation of a picnic celebrating pride month due to threats from right wing groups.
Following the announcement of the picnic, the organizers were targeted by harassment and threats on social media. On June 1, members from the Youth Union of Turkey (TGB), Turkey Youth Foundation (TÜGVA), and the Izmir Great Family Platform read a statement on-campus denouncing “LGBTQ propaganda.” On the same day, the Izmir Bar Association, which had assisted students to organize the event, contacted Izmir’s police department and the university rectorate to request safety measures for the picnic.
On June 2, it was announced that the picnic would be canceled due to safety concerns. Students, activists, and lawyers gathered outside of the Izmir Bar Association to make a press statement regarding the cancellation. Police instructed them to disperse, reportedly because the students had not received permission to give a statement. After warnings, the police attempted to forcefully disperse the group. In a Twitter video, police are seen using riot shields to shove students and activists against the outside of a building. Police also reportedly beat students and used pepper spray.
After the police intervention ended, the students were able to make their press statement. The Izmir Bar Association later filed a criminal complaint about the use of force by police.
The picnic was rescheduled and held in coordination with the Vegan Çiftlik International Short Film Festival on June 30th.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the cancellation of an on-campus event due to public pressure and the use of force against students peacefully exercising their 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 and higher education officials should protect academic freedom and take all available steps to ensure the exercise of academic freedom, including during on-campus academic events. Moreover, while state authorities have the right to implement reasonable laws and reguElations to ensure order, they must also exercise restraint and refrain from actions that may result in unnecessary harm. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom, freedom of expression, and democratic society generally.