A Turkish court on Tuesday put nine students in pretrial detention on charges of disseminating terrorist propaganda after they protested a military offensive being conducted by Turkey in northern Syria, Reuters reported, based on a story by the state-owned Anadolu news agency.
The protest took place last month when a group of students at Istanbul’s Boğaziçi University organized a rally in support of Turkey’s offensive against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia in the northern Syrian region of Afrin and also distributed Turkish delight from a stand on the campus.
A rival group of students then staged a counter-rally with a banner that read “Invasion, massacre cannot be marked with Turkish delight,” prompting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to call them “terrorists” and authorities to launch an investigation.
Six other students who prosecutors had also wanted jailed were freed on their own recognizance, Anadolu reported.
Prosecutors said the students had acted in line with Kurdish militants and had attempted “to portray the Republic of Turkey and the Turkish Armed Forces as forces that were invading and using violence, and therefore engaging in illegitimate actions in the region,” the Hürriyet news website reported.
Following the anti-war protest, Erdoğan said the students would not be allowed to study at university.
“We will find these terrorist students by means of footage and will do what is necessary. We won’t give these terrorist, communist youths the right to study at these universities,” Erdoğan said last month.
“We will catch them by the ear and throw them to the ground,” he told members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said it was not the president’s place to determine the fate of students.
“Who are you not to let them study? Are universities your father’s property? Universities are not designed from the top of the state,” Kılıçdaroğlu said, likening Erdogan to a dictator.
Last month Turkish forces drove the YPG militia, considered by Ankara a terrorist organization linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), from the town of Afrin after a nearly two-month operation.
Since the start of the offensive, Turkish authorities have detained hundreds of people for social media posts and protests criticizing the operation.
Erdogan also vowed to strip the word “Turkish” from the name of the 83,000-member Turkish Medical Association (TTB) after the group publicly opposed the military campaign.