Release detained Bogazici protestors
The appointment by President Erdoğan of Professor Melih Bulu, who is known for his political affiliation with the ruling AK Party, as the rector of Boğaziçi University was met with widespread protests by students and academic staff at the University and beyond. Protests were held in at least 38 provinces around the country, which were met by the use of unnecessary and excessive force by the police to disperse peaceful demonstrations and detain participants. On 21 February, the Minister of Interior announced that there had been 806 detentions, with 11 people remanded in pre-trial detention, of whom two were released after five days, and 27 people subjected to house arrest. Hundreds were placed under judicial controls, including travel bans and requirements to report frequently at a police station.
On 1 February, the President’s Communications Director Fahrettin Altun shared on social media the decision taken by rector Melih Bulu to revoke the “candidate status” of the Boğaziçi University LGBTI+ club. The decision led to the closure of the club, that had been active for years, on grounds that two criminal investigations allegedly concerning the LGBTI+ club had been launched. One of the criminal investigations concerned the two students accused of ‘incitement to hatred and enmity’ in relation to an artwork displayed during an art exhibition in which the LGBTI+ club had not been involved. The artwork depicted the mythical figure of Shahmaran on a picture of the holy site of Kaaba with LGBTI+ flags on the four corners of the image. The other criminal investigation under charges of ‘propaganda for a terrorist organisation’ was based on a book allegedly found in the LGBTI+ club’s office by the police during a search which was carried out in the absence of anyone representing the LGBTI+ club. Several high-level authorities, including the Minister of Interior, made homophobic comments directed at LGBTI+ students in the context of a large number of posts attacking the artwork on social media. The Minister of Interior’s tweets referring to LGBTI+ people as ‘deviants’ were twice restricted by Twitter for contravening the platform's rules.
An indictment was accepted on 26 February in which seven students are facing prosecution under ‘incitement to hatred and enmity’ under Article 216/1 of the Turkish Penal Code, in relation to the art exhibition on campus described above. Two of the seven are the students who were remanded in pre-trial detention on 30 January.
Under the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Turkey is a state party to, as well as its own domestic laws, the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly cannot be arbitrarily restricted, and people must not be detained solely for the exercise of these rights.