On March 19, a group of students at Istanbul’s Boğaziçi University, Turkey’s leading institute of higher education, demonstrated against an event on campus. The event against which they were demonstrating, organized by the Society for Islamic Research, was to champion the Turkish soldiers who had participated in the Afrin invasion. While the pro-government students distributed Turkish delight sweets, the counter-demonstrators unfolded a banner reading: “Invasions and massacres are not [to be celebrated] with delights.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded by having the anti-war students arrested for spreading “terrorist” propaganda. On April 3, a Turkish court jailed nine of them and freed the other six, pending their trial.
To protest what they called a “disturbing trend of criminalizing political speech and dissent in Turkey,” over 1,800 renowned academics from around the world, among them Nobel and Pulitzer Prize laureates, signed an “Open Letter of Support for Students Arrested at Boğaziçi University”. The letter reads, in part:
“The arrests on campus, as well as subsequent police raids of student homes and dormitories, continue a disturbing trend of criminalizing political speech and dissent in Turkey.
“Erdoğan has cynically referred to these students as ‘terrorists,’ vowed to expel them from Boğaziçi University, and to deny them the right to study at any other university. We have heard this kind of verbal attack from Erdoğan before and it was followed by the detention of thousands of academics, journalists, artists, and human rights advocates.
“We call upon the Turkish government to immediately cease all investigations and arrests of students exercising political speech.”