The İstanbul 32nd High Criminal Court on Wednesday released 14 Boğaziçi University students from pretrial detention in the first hearing of their trial on charges of disseminating terrorist propaganda when they protested a Turkish military operation in Afrin, northern Syria.
On March 19, when a group of students were handing out Turkish delight on campus celebrating the Turkish army’s capture of Afrin, another group unfurled a banner that said “Invasion, massacre, cannot be marked with Turkish delight.”
An altercation developed between the two groups.
After the incident appeared on social media, Turkish police started to detain the students who had criticized the Afrin offensive.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also weighed in on the issue, calling the students “terrorists.”
“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.
A total of 22 students have been detained since then, 14 of whom have been in pretrial detention, according to an Evrensel daily report.
Before the court hearing, families of the students and a group of politicians and activists, including Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputies Ali Şeker, Sezgin Tanrıkulu, Zeynep Altıok Ataklı and Selina Doğan, and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) parliamentary candidates Ahmet Şık, Erkan Baş, Oya Ersoy and Sema Uçar, read a statement.
“We don’t expect release today; we expect acquittal. We expect the trial to be concluded,” the statement said.
One of the students, Şükran Yaren Tuncer, said during the hearing that they were assaulted by the police during their detention, while another student, Yusuf Noyan Öztürk, tried to recant answers given during his interrogation, saying it was taken under pressure and that his ex-lawyer allowed the police to include some things that he did not say.
Some of the students also said they had been targeted by politicians and branded as “terrorists.” Others complained about the interruption of their education.
“One day I was detained after school. Police kept me in their minivan for two-and-a-half hours and assaulted me. They stripped off my and my friend Muhammet Bilgin’s clothes in the detention center, then they beat us,” İsmail Gürler, another student, said.
The next hearing in the trial has been set for Oct. 3.