TURKEY. On Monday night, 159 students were taken into custody in Istanbul in protests against the new rector of Bogazici University. The students see his appointment as President Erdogan's latest attempt to restrict academic freedom in Turkey.
The new rector, Melih Bulu, is known to be Erdogan’s political ally. Immediately after his appointment at the beginning of January, protests broke out on the University's campus. The police put down Monday's protests using tear gas, rubber bullets and a water cannon, and were said to have arrested a number of protesters that night.
But the students have not given up. They have been organising daily protests on several university campuses, with the support of researchers and other staff members. It is alleged that two students were wounded on Monday night.
The protesters fear that the new rector will put an end to liberal campus culture, academic freedom and institutional independence, for which Bogazici University has been a beacon until now.
The protests did not come out of the blue. Academic freedom has come under increasing pressure in Turkey in recent years. After the attempted coup of July 2016, President Erdogan ramped up control. He closed dozens of universities and fired thousands of faculty and researchers. They were accused of spreading propaganda or belonging to a “terrorist organisation” headed by spiritual leader Fethullah Gülen.
Of the researchers dismissed from their posts, an estimated three thousand were sitting at home without work at the end of 2017. Some of them tried to flee abroad, including to the Netherlands.
Internationally, including in this country, public protests have been organised in their support. Last Saturday, students at Rotterdam University College demonstrated at the Hofvijver in The Hague. And today the Groninger Studentenbond (GSb) organised a demonstration to show their solidarity, which drew an attendance of around thirty. They are calling on Dutch universities and the Ministry to condemn the arrests and come out in defence of academic freedom. “Up until now it has been eerily silent”, said GSb chairperson Marinus Jongman.
Using hashtag #StandwithBogazici, students can post pictures of themselves holding a sign with the number 159.
HOP, Hein Cuppen