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Court paves way for prosecution of police who used undue force during Boğaziçi protests

Turkish Police detain activists supporting Boğaziçi University students protesting against the appointment by the Turkish government of a new rector in Ankara on February 2, 2021. Adem ALTAN / AFP

An appeals court has annulled an order from the İstanbul Governor’s Office that prohibited the prosecution of police officers for their alleged use of excessive force against demonstrators protesting the appointment of a loyalist as rector of an İstanbul university, local media reported.

The İstanbul Regional Administrative Court’s decision states that acts of battery and ill-treatment cannot be interpreted as falling within the scope of police powers and duties and can therefore be prosecuted under the applicable law.

When Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appointed Melih Bulu as rector of Boğaziçi University some six months ago, thousands of students and academics started to protest the appointment, arguing that it was part of a broader effort to centralize control over universities and that it undercut academic freedoms and democracy.

Dozens were detained while others were the subject of police raids as officers emboldened by Erdoğan’s anger responded heavy-handedly to the protests.

Eray Türkdoğan, a member of the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP), was one of the victims of alleged police ill-treatment as he tried to attend the reading of a TKP press statement on Feb. 2, 2021.

Türkdoğan filed a complaint against the police officers, but the İstanbul Governor’s Office refused to give the go-ahead to the prosecution, arguing that the police officers’ acts fell within the scope of their powers.

The appeals court’s decision is expected to set a precedent for future acts of violence by police officers who will be denied impunity from legal proceedings under the pretext of “duty-related acts.”

Due to the massive demonstrations and protests that lasted for some six months, Erdoğan eventually ousted Bulu with a decree published in the Official Gazette last week.

Bulu is a founding member of the ruling AKP’s Sarıyer district branch in İstanbul and unsuccessfully ran for parliament in the 2015 elections. He was also the leader of a team of “virtual raiders” that was established to respond to negative comments online towards President Erdoğan and the AKP and to spread pro-AKP propaganda.

There have also been claims that Bulu plagiarized his master’s and Ph.D. theses. Following the allegations, Turkey’s Higher Education Board( YÖK) closed Bulu’s theses to online access.

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