Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday targeted Ayşe Buğra, the wife of jailed businessman and rights activist Osman Kavala, claiming that she is among a group of “provocateurs” who sparked protests against the appointment of a controversial figure as rector of İstanbul’s prestigious Boğaziçi University.
Buğra is a professor of political economy at the Atatürk Institute of Modern Turkish History at Boğaziçi. Her husband Kavala has been behind bars since 2017 on politically motivated charges.
The protests have been ongoing since the beginning of January against Erdoğan’s decision to appoint Melih Bulu, an unsuccessful candidate from Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for a seat in parliament, as the university’s rector. The students are demanding the appointment of a rector from the university staff after the holding of an election.
Speaking to reporters following Friday prayers in İstanbul, Erdoğan said the protests have nothing to do with the students and that provocateurs are responsible for them.
“The wife of the person named Osman Kavala, the representative of [George] Soros, is among these provocateurs, too,” said Erdoğan, targeting Buğra.
Erdoğan has accused businessmen Soros and Kavala of being foreign and domestic organizers of anti-government protests in Turkey in 2013.
Erdoğan’s remarks targeting Buğra came a day after the pro-government Yeni Akit newspaper ran a front-page story on Thursday about academics who support the protests at Boğaziçi University. Yeni Akit published photos of a group of academics from the university including Buğra with the headline, “Terrorist militants, not academics” at Boğaziçi University.
The Turkish president also said the protestors would go as far as calling on him to resign if they had the courage to do so.
Following Erdoğan’s remarks, a hashtag calling on the president to resign became a trending topic on Twitter.
After his detention on Oct. 18, 2017 on accusations of orchestrating and financing the Gezi Park protests in İstanbul in 2013, Kavala was arrested on Nov. 1 on charges of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and “attempting to overthrow the government.”
Although he was acquitted of these charges in mid-February 2020, he was rearrested the same day on charges related to a 2016 abortive putsch in Turkey in a move described by his lawyers as a tactic to circumvent the ECtHR ruling, which said on Dec. 10, 2019 that Kavala’s long pretrial detention was a violation of his rights.
The philanthropist is currently on trial for charges that include “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and “obtaining confidential information of the state for political or military espionage.”
A Turkish court on Friday decided to keep Kavala in jail at the most recent hearing of his trial in İstanbul.