Boğaziçi Protests Continue in February

The protests sparked by the appointment of Melih Bulu as a trustee rector to Boğaziçi have spread across the country. The protests demand that the rectors are assigned to their posts through democratic elections. 

A new wave of protests started upon the detention of students following the closure of the LGBTI+ club on campus for holding an open air art exhibition on campus. On January 8, during the protests against the rector at Boğaziçi, students had made an open call for a protest art exhibition. The open air exhibition was launched at the campus with 400 works of art. On its last day, January 29, the Islamic Studies Club (BİSAK) suggested that one of the pieces “insulted religious values” and targeted the students involved in the art exhibition on social media. Following their call, 5 students were detained, 1 was released shortly after, 2 students were placed under house arrest and the remaining 2 were arrested. The same day, police raided university club rooms without a legal warrant. The police confiscated LGBTI+ flags as “criminal” artifacts. 

During the arrests, the prosecution amended the charges from the initial allegation of  “insulting religious values” to be replaced with “inciting the public to animosity and hatred”, as a means to ensure the legal grounds for the students’ arrest. Thus, the students were arrested on January 30th, on the premises of a flight risk. The students are currently held in Metris Prison in isolation at the quarantine ward.

A new smear campaign was launched on social media with the hashtag #BoğaziçiLGBTDisgrace (#BoğaziçiLGBTrezaleti), which soon became a top trending hashtag. The campaign joined together demands for the cancellation of the Istanbul Convention, for the closure of LGBTI+ association as well as verbal attacks against the Boğaziçi protestors. The appointed rector Melih Bulu, the Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu and the Director of Religious Affairs Ali Erbaş supported the smear campaign with their tweets. Against this campaign of hate speech, protestors used the hashtag #LGBTIRightsAreHumanRights.

Boğaziçi Solidarity heeded to their arrested friends call for support and posted their three demands with the hashtag #ItsUpToUsNow (#BundanSonrasıBizde). Students ask for the immediate release of their friends, demand the rector’s resignation and a democratic election for the appointment of the next rector. The group called for a meeting in front of the Southern Campus on February 1, 2021 at 17.00.

Before the press statement to be held on February 1, 17.00, the Southern Campus was surrounded by special forces and snipers. The students were reminded by the police of the ongoing governorship ban against demonstrations. Campus security officers blocked the students from leaving the campus and attacked the students gathering in front of the Rectorate building. Those who remained within the campus declared a sit-in in front of the Rectorate building where Melih Bulu resides. Police assaulted the students trying to gather for a press statement at 17.00 and detained 108 students. The students were battered and beaten under detention in the police vehicles. The attorney Ezgi Önalan was also detained. Our colleague Mert Batur was among the detained students. The detained students were brought to the prosecutor’s office at Çağlayan Courthouse on February 3rd, where they were greeted by a large group of students. The students read out a press statement while waiting for their friends’ interrogation to end. The interrogation ended in the early hours of the next morning and all 30 of the students were released. 

Following a police officer attacking a student for “not looking down” at the ground, the protests continue with the hashtag #WeWontLookDown (#AşağıBakmayacağız). The hashtag was at the time of writing at the top of the Twitter list in Turkey with 633.000 tweets. Students in various cities staged protests with the slogan. On February 3rd, İzmir Universities Solidarity gathered in front of Türkan Saylan Cultural Center at 17:00 to read their press statement regarding the Boğaziçi protests. Before the students could start their protest, the police attacked them with pepper spray and rubber bullets, detaining several protestors, who were released later in the evening. In Ankara, Çorum, Trabzon and Konya, too, students’ protests were met with police interventions and many were detained. 

During the evening, police entered the campus with police vans shortly after 21.00 and demanded the students to end their sit-in, stating that it is illegal to stage a protest during the COVID curfew. Shortly after that the police attacked the students violently and detained an additional 51 students. 

105 of the students detained during the press statement were released on February 2. 7 of these released students were later detained again by the police.

Meanwhile in Izmir, students planned to come together in a Pride Walk to show solidarity with the arrested students. They were attacked by the police and 27 students were battered while being taken into detention. In the late hours of the night on February 2, all of them were released. 

The Presidency Communication Director, Fahrettin Altun announced that the Boğaziçi LGBTI+ Club was closed by a rectorate decision and pointed to the open air exhibition as the reason. 

Boğaziçi Solidarity called for a meeting on February 2 at 18:00 in Kadıköy under the slogan “We Won’t Look Down”. Some students were detained on the way to the protest while the police attacked demonstrators in the Kadıköy with tear gas and rubber bullets. At least 60 protesters were taken into custody in Kadıköy.

On February 4, in early hours of the morning police organized raids to student residences. The students who joined the Boğaziçi protests were taken into custody. Youth Committees (Gençlik Komiteleri) announced that Marmara University student Yunus Emre Karaca was among those detained. Karaca was detained and released the day before and is now facing charges of “inciting the public to animosity”, “resisting police” and “damaging public property”. The committees underline that their friend is being defamed and that Karaca was detained because they were defending their university. The Committees also suggested that the police attempted to run over their friends with marked police cars during the protests. Students convened in front of Anadolu Courthouse to show support for their friends detained earlier in the day. They continue to demand their immediate release with the hashtag #Arkadaşlarımızıİstiyoruz (#WeWantOurFriends). 

On February 5, there were 22 students still in detention since the Kadıköy protests and two students, Selo and Doğu, held in remand awaiting trial. Their friends continue to demand their release with the hashtag #SıraDoğuveSeloda (#ItsDoğuandSelosTurn).