4 MEPs call for urgent release of university students arrested over Boğaziçi protests

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Four members of the European Parliament have demanded that two students from İstanbul’s Boğaziçi University arrested for participating in protests be released immediately, according to a press release published on Dec. 23, 2021 on the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV) website.

MEPs Özlem Alev Demirel, Idoia Villanueva Ruiz, Dietmar Köster and Niklas Nienass responded to a call made by the TİHV on Dec. 14 for urgent action regarding the situation of Boğaziçi University students Ersin Berke Gök and Caner Perit Özen, demanding that acts of torture, arbitrary detention and judicial harassment against two students should be stopped.

The students were arrested on Oct. 8 for resisting law enforcement officers and violating the law on meetings and demonstrations.

A prolonged series of protests broke out at the university after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appointed Melih Bulu, a loyalist, as the rector of the university in early January.

In their response to the TİHV’s call, the MEPs asked responsible persons and authorities to “[g]uarantee, in all circumstances, the physical and mental integrity of Gök and Özen and of all participants of peaceful Boğaziçi University protests.”

Noting that Gök and Özen were detained arbitrarily, the MEPs urged their immediate and unconditional release and the dropping of all charges against them and other Boğaziçi University protestors.

Students claimed the appointment of the loyalist rector was part of Erdoğan’s broader effort to centralize control over universities and that it undercuts academic freedoms and democracy.

Since early 2021 hundreds demanding the resignation of Bulu and the appointment of a rector from the university staff after the holding of an election have been detained for participating in the youth-driven protests.

According to the press release, the two detained students had been held in solitary confinement for more than 50 days and been unable to take their exams at the university and obtain necessary medicine. Following their transfer from Metris Prison to Silivri Prison on Oct. 26,  they were also denied letters from their relatives. The administration of Silivri Prison has also not provided food compatible with Gök’s vegan diet. 

“They had also faced violence from authorities during peaceful protests at Boğaziçi University earlier than 5 October 2021 and currently, they have been imposed to inhumane confinement conditions. Overall treatment of Ersin Berke Gök and Caner Perit Özen has clearly violated the prohibition of torture. Their physical and mental integrity is under real and imminent risk, and their right to education has been infringed as well,” it added.

The MEPs further called on Turkish authorities to stop all forms of harassment against human rights defenders in Turkey and to safeguard their rights to security and liberty by ensuring conformity to the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

Shortly after Bulu’s dismissal by a presidential decree in July, the university community demanded that a democratic election be held at the university to elect a new rector, adding that they would not accept the appointment of a rector to replace Bulu, either from within or without the university, since they oppose the appointment of rectors by Erdoğan.

However, Erdoğan on Aug. 20 appointed Naci İnci, a former deputy to Bulu, as the new rector, despite a 95 percent disapproval rating he received in polls held among the university community to determine possible rector candidates, again prompting outrage among academics and students.

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