A court on Friday ruled to release two university students who have been in pretrial detention for more than three months for participating in protests against the government-appointed rector of one of Turkey’s top public universities, Turkish media reported.
Boğaziçi University students Ersin Berke Gök, a senior in the physics department, and Caner Perit Özen, a history student, were arrested on Oct. 6 for resisting law enforcement officers and violating the law on meetings and demonstrations during protests against the appointment of a pro-government rector to the İstanbul-based Boğaziçi University. The students were arrested based on a complaint from the university’s current rector, Professor Naci İnci, another government loyalist.
A prolonged series of protests broke out at the university after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appointed Melih Bulu, a loyalist, as the rector of the university in early January.
The first hearing in the trial of 14 students, 12 of whom were not in detention, was held at an İstanbul court on Friday. The court ruled to release the two jailed students on judicial probation.
Özen, who attended the hearing via the IT Voice and Image System (SEGBİS), told the court that his arrest was politically motivated and aimed at intimidating the students, while Gök said they have been subjected to various rights violations during the time they spent in jail such as being deprived of sufficient food, medication and exam papers and subjected to psychological and physical maltreatment.
Members of the European Parliament and international and local human rights groups called for the students’ release ahead of their trial.
“We have been observing with great concern the arbitrary repression of the state security forces against the students of Bogazici University in Istanbul … protesting against the arbitrary appointment of the rector by President Erdogan,” four European Parliament members said in a joint statement this week, ahead of Friday’s trial.
Jan. 3 marked the first anniversary of the protests that broke out at the university and spread to other universities after the appointment of Bulu as the university’s rector. Nearly a thousand students were detained and about a hundred lost their scholarships for participating in the protests. A dozen academics sympathetic to the student protests were removed from their jobs.
Students claim 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.
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 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.