Human Rights Watch calls on Turkey to end student protest crackdown

Human Rights Watch called on Friday for Turkey to end its crackdown on student protests.

Students at Istanbul’s Boğaziçi University have led demonstrations since January against government efforts to further curtail the autonomy of academic institutions.

A subsequent crackdown by authorities has seen hundreds of protestors detained, including in police raids at their homes. Police have been accused of mistreating those in their custody, included physical and verbal abuse, and unwarranted strip searches.    

Human Rights Watch commended the police response to the “peaceful protests”, which it said had shown “excessive force”.

Thursday saw further violent scenes after riot police intervened against protestors who gathered in Istanbul’s Kadıköy district to call for an end to police brutality and the release of those detained.

Human Rights Watch also called on authorities at Boğaziçi University to “drop the ongoing disciplinary investigations against students and not misuse its authority to silence dissent on campus”.

Melih Bulu, a former general election candidate for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), was appointed by presidential decree to head the university at the start of the year, sparking the protest movement.

“Turkey’s authorities should urgently drop their policy of crushing peaceful student protests, respect the rights of assembly and expression, and drop all arbitrary charges and sanctions against students for their involvement in them,” Human Rights Watch said.

The protestors have been routinely demonised by senior government officials. In January, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said the students involved were “LGBT deviants”, using an acronym that refers to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual communities. 

More recently, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, a key government ally, said the protestors “were not our children but venomous snakes whose heads should be crushed”.