Mar 30 2018

World scholars sign letter of support for "harassed" Turkish students

Renowned academics from around the world have signed an open letter of support for students from Istanbul’s Boğaziçi University who have been detained and harassed by police after objecting to a group celebrating Turkey’s military victory in Afrin, northwest Syria.

“As members of academic communities around the world, we strongly oppose the recent arrests and harassment of students at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, Turkey,” read the letter, signed at the time of writing by over 500 academics including philosopher Judith Butler and critical theorist Nancy Fraser.

A stall was set up by pro-government students to celebrate the victory on a campus at Boğaziçi, one of Turkey’s most prestigious universities. A fight broke out after protesters from among the student body arrived on the scene, and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s youth wing held a demonstration at the university the next day.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took up the issue during a rally on Mar. 24, calling the anti-war protesters “terrorists, communists and traitors,” and vowing to strip them of the right to study in Turkish universities. 21 of the students were reportedly detained in the aftermath of the episode, several of whom reported they had been beaten by police while in custody.

“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,” read the letter. “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.”

The letter, which is addressed to Turkish government representatives in Washington D.C. and New York, calls on the Turkish government to release the student detainees, and “cease all investigations and arrests of students exercising political speech.”

Butler and Fraser were both among the prominent international scholars who spoke in support of the Academics for Peace, a group of Turkish academics who signed a petition protesting heavy-handed tactics in the fight against Kurdish militants in Turkey’s southeast. Around 150 of the over-2,000 signatories are currently facing trial on terrorist propaganda charges in Turkish courts.