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 02, 2023

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):Middle East Technical University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:New Incident

In early September, Middle East Technical University (METU) notified five students that the university had opened disciplinary investigations against them for unfurling a pride flag during a graduation ceremony that had been held on July 26.

In the days leading up to the ceremony, METU’s rectorate became aware of some students’ plans to hold LGBTQ+ flags during the graduation. In response, the rectorate sent an email stating that the only flags permissible at the ceremony were Turkish flags, the flags of international students’ countries, and the METU pennant. Nevertheless, at the graduation ceremony on July 26, a group of students waved pride flags as they paraded into the stadium where the graduation was held.

On September 2, two students received notifications that they were under disciplinary investigation since it had been “determined that they went on a mass march by unfurling an LGBT banner brought in a bag during the diploma ceremony held at the METU stadium.” Three other students later also received notifications of disciplinary investigations against them. The five students attended disciplinary hearings on September 12 and 13. The outcomes of those hearings were not publicly available.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about disciplinary actions or investigations brought against students in retaliation for the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and assembly – conduct which is 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. University 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 harm to the immediate victims, disciplinary investigations are unduly burdensome and disruptive and undermine academic freedom, free expression on campus, and democratic society generally.