CSSA Weekly News Summary, March 15-21

Update on the Boğaziçi Protestors’ Trial

As part of the protests against the appointment of Melih Bulu as the rector of Boğaziçi  University by President Erdoğan, students in the Boğaziçi University Art Collective created an open air exhibition on the campus. An investigation was launched against 7 students who organized the exhibition on the charges of “inciting the public to hatred and animosity”. The investigation was a gross violation of the freedom of artistic expression and initially was based on the charges of “insulting religious values”. As this charge did not fall within the category of crimes that warrant arrest, the investigation then changed its allegation to “inciting the public to hatred and animosity”.  

The first court hearing was on March 17. Selahattin Can Uğuzeş and Doğu Demirtaş were released but remain on trial. The other students will continue to stand trial without pretrial detention. The next hearing will be held on July 5.

Incidents before the trial

Prior to the first hearing on March 17, Boğaziçi Solidarity Group, many democratic organizations, youth organizations, LGBTI+ organizations and CSO’s called for people to join a press statement in front of the Çağlayan Courthouse. However, the entire square in front of the Courthouse was barricaded by the police, who only left a corridor for entries and exits to the courthouse.

The people congregating near the Courthouse were stopped by the police on their way to the square where they would hold the press statement. The students were not allowed to pass and were told that the Kağıthane District Governorate had published a ban against all assemblies in front of the Courthouse. In spite of the police prevention, the press statement took place with the participation of several MPs, including various messages of solidarity with Doğu and Selahattin as well as continued protests against the appointed rector. 

Incidents During the Hearing

Only family members and the defendants’ lawyers were allowed into the courtroom while many lawyers and members of the press were barred from entering. Following the judge’s questions such as “Are you a member of LGBT? Do you have any affiliations with the LGBTI?”, the lawyer Levent Pişkin objected saying these questions criminalize LGBTI+ people and that there is no such thing as membership to LGBTI+. The judge responded “I just recently found out there is such a thing as LGBTI”. 

What Happened?

The protests beginning on January 4 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. Nearly 800 students were detained, more than 20 of them are under house arrest and 6 of them are still under arrest for their participation in the protests.  

On January 8, during the protests against the rector at Boğaziçi, students 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, 2 students were placed under house arrest and 2 students were arrested. The same day, police raided university club rooms without a legal warrant. The police confiscated LGBTI+ flags as “criminal” evidence.