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Arrest of Boğaziçi student over LGBT poster ‘lawful,’ Justice Ministry says

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Turkey’s Justice Ministry has said the arrest of a student from Boğaziçi University on charges of inciting hatred in a poster depicting the Kaaba – Islam’s most sacred site – with LGBT flags was “lawful,” adding that homosexuality was “forbidden” in Islam, Deutsche Welle Turkish service reported on Wednesday.

Boğaziçi students Doğu Demirtaş and Selahattin Can Uğuzeş were arrested on Jan. 30 after top Turkish officials slammed the display of a poster depicting the Kaaba with the LGBT movement’s rainbow flag at an exhibition on the university campus during demonstrations held by students and academics in protest of the appointment of a pro-government figure as rector by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in early 2021.

The Kaaba in Mecca is the holiest site in Islam, with believers across the world praying in its direction.

A Turkish prosecutor is seeking a prison sentence of up to three years for seven students, including Demirtaş and Uğuzeş, for “inciting hatred and enmity among the public” by displaying the poster, stating in an indictment that the display “posed a clear and imminent danger to public safety.”

Uğuzeş, who was released on March 17, submitted an individual application to the Constitutional Court claiming that his arrest was a violation of his right to personal freedom and security since he didn’t contribute to the hanging or the display of the LGBT poster but was just present during the exhibition.

According to DW Turkish, Hacı Ali Açıkgül, head of the Human Rights Department of the Justice Ministry, said in the written answer to the application that the arrest of Uğuzeş was “lawful” due to the “strong suspicion” that he committed the crime of “inciting hatred and enmity among the public.”

“The decision for the arrest of the applicant was made in order to protect the rights of others and public order,” Açıkgül said, adding that the claim that Uğuzeş was arrested without credible reasons and without a strong suspicion of having committed a crime was groundless.

Açıkgül also emphasized in the reply, which includes statements copied directly from the indictment, according to DW, that homosexuality was “forbidden” in the religion of Islam.

Students and alumni as well as politicians and activists have protested 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, since the beginning of January. They argued that it was a part of Erdoğan’s broader effort to centralize control over universities and that it undercuts academic freedoms and democracy.

Bulu, whose appointment sparked more than six months of protests, was dismissed by Erdoğan in mid-July. Following his dismissal, Prof. Dr. Naci İnci, the former vice rector of the Boğaziçi University, was appointed as acting rector.

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