HRW denounces rights violations of Boğaziçi protestors

Turkish authorities violated the rights of protestors expressing their opposition to the appointment of a government-ally to run Istanbul’s prestigious Boğaziçi University, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday. 

HRW said authorities had “responded to some of the demonstrations with excessive police force, summary arrests, and targeted house raids”.

Melih Bulu, a long-standing ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was appointed as rector of Boğaziçi University by government decree on Jan. 1, circumventing an election process amongst his peers.

Demonstrations against Bulu’s appointment have since seen more than 500 students and supporters detained by police, with reports of mistreatment including strip-searches, rape threats and physical abuse.

“Erdoğan’s appointment of an unelected rector to Boğaziçi University and the violent arrests of students who had peacefully protested the move encapsulates the government’s disregard for basic human rights,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Most of those held by police have since been released, but at least 25 remain under house arrest, with nine more in pretrial detention, according to the rights group. They face charges of inciting hatred, violating the law on demonstrations, and resisting police orders.

 “The Turkish authorities should respect the right to assembly, stop using abusive police power to silence dissent, and ensure the immediate release of students arbitrarily detained,” Williamson said.

Top Turkish officials have repeatedly used anti-LGBT rhetoric against the protesters. In January, Interior Minister Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu described the students as “deviants”, drawing criticism from both the United States and the European Union.

And HRW said the government had used such rhetoric to delegitimise the protests and “appeal to conservative outrage”.   

“The authorities should protect and affirm LGBT students’ rights to organize and express themselves, rather than attacking them,” Williamson said.