Boğaziçi students’ indictment ‘includes Sharia references’, says lawyer

Seven students from Turkey’s prestigious Boğaziçi University faced a judge in Istanbul on Wednesday on charges of “openly insulting religious values ” through a piece of art depicting the Muslim holy site of the Kaaba.

The artwork showed the mythological figure of Shahmaran, the Master of Snakes, superimposed on an image of the Kaaba, with LGBT flags placed in the corners of the canvas.

The work was an anonymous submission to an exhibition the students held as part of protests against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s appointment of a ruling party loyalist as Boğaziçi’s rector in January.

Levent Pişkin, one of the lawyers for the students, said the indictment included references to Sharia laws, and thus was in violation of the Turkish constitution which states that Turkey is a secular state with no official religion, news website Diken reported.

In the indictment, the Istanbul chief public prosecutor noted the LGBT flags were “symbols of homosexuality and other such sexual orientations that are considered forbidden and haram in Islamic religious literature.”

Moreover, the Shahmaran figure was “against the Islamic belief that the only creator is Allah”, according to an earlier report by Diken.

The artwork went “beyond abstract disrespect and denial”, and was “fit to encourage hostile attitudes toward a section of society”, the prosecutor said.

Rejecting the lawyers’ appeal for acquittal on grounds of freedom of expression, the court moved to hear testimony from the students.

Doğu Demirtaş, one of the two students in pre-trial detention, said they didn’t mean the artwork to be insulting.

“I reject allegations that I said the artwork didn’t violate Islam,” Demirtaş said. “We are all educated people, we would defend the piece for not being in violation of the law, not Islam.”

The other student in pre-trial detention, Selahattin Can Uğuzeş, said the students received more than 300 submissions for the exhibition, and that they did not know its artist.

Demirtaş said he saw a university security guard put the piece up, not the students.

Some of the pieces, including the disputed Kaaba piece, had later been moved to the ground, a gesture many Muslims consider to be offensive.

“We had never organized an exhibition before, and we made many mistakes,” a student was placed on house arrest said at the hearing. “I am sorry that the artworks were put on the ground and people were upset by it.”

All students were asked whether they were members of the LGBT community during the trial, Diken said.

The hearing concluded with the judge ordering the release of Demirtaş and Uğuzeş from pretrial detention, Ali Gül, a lawyer monitoring the hearing, said in a tweet.