Photo credit: Bianet
Since the illegitimate appointment of Professor Melih Bulu on January 2, 2021, as the president of Bogazici University, the tension between the government and protesters continues to escalate. On January 29, 2021, four LGBT Bogazici students were taken into custody over an artwork they displayed on the campus grounds that reportedly was a collage of LGBT rainbow symbols alongside an image of Kaaba, a sacred Islamic site. Because of the picture, they were charged with "degrading or inciting the public to enmity or hatred." Two students were placed under house arrest, while the other two were arrested and sent to prison, awaiting trial.
The artwork was on display in an exhibition at the Bogazici campus as part of the ongoing protests against Prof. Bulu’s appointment. Following the arrests, numerous high government officials responded in defense of the police action, calling the detained students ‘deviants’, and their art ‘an ugly attack that mocks religious beliefs.’ The Bulu administration condemned the situation and fully cooperated with the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. The Prosecutor also decried the exhibition and the art pieces and, claimed that, "during the search carried out at Boğaziçi University LGBTI+ Club, a banned book with the emblem and propaganda of the PKK terrorist organization as well as LGBTI flags and various banners and placards used in protests were captured." In modern Turkey, homosexuality is not legally punishable; however, the AKP government’s conservative and oppressive attitude has been inciting homophobia and labeling the LGBT community as a kind of terrorist challenge to the government’s religiously motivated political agenda.
Endangered Scholars Worldwide believes that the government’s use of the ongoing protests as a justification to target and persecute the LGBT community is unacceptable. ESW condemns the Turkish government’s recurring attacks on academic freedom and the constitutional autonomy of higher education institutions in Turkey. The ongoing tensions in Turkey have had a profoundly unsettling effect on academic freedom and continue to pose a grave threat to higher education on a national scale. ESW urges the Turkish authorities to respect and guarantee the autonomy of higher education in Turkey and to implement the provisions and principles of human rights as specified in international conventions and treaties, and to drop any charges against the accused arising from their nonviolent exercise of the rights to expression, association, and assembly.