The arrest of two Boğaziçi University students over a poster that depicted LGBT rainbow symbols alongside an image of the Kaaba in Mecca has triggered a new wave of protests at the university and the detention of 159 students, Turkish media reported.
The police raided the Boğaziçi University LGTB+ student club and the Fine Arts Club two days ago and confiscated rainbow flags, posters and banners. Dozens of students protested the raids and the ensuing arrests, saying they were homophobic and discriminatory.
Some social media users started an online campaign with the hashtag Boğaziçi LGTB scandal (#Boğaziçililbgtrezaleti), while conservatives and top government officials also supported the immediate prosecution of the students responsible for the art poster.
The poster placed a mythical half-woman and half-snake over the Kaaba along with the flags of LGBT people. The text below it said the poster was a critique of traditional gender roles.
Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu depicted the students as “perverts” on Twitter, saying they were “thankfully detained.” Soylu’s tweet has since been flagged by Twitter for violating the platform’s rules about hateful conduct.
Mil-Diyanet Sen, a union for employees of the Directorate of Religious Affairs, issued a statement saying they had petitioned the Interior Ministry for the closure of all LGTB associations and a complete ban on their activities.
İbrahim Kalın, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s spokesperson, said “neither freedom of expression nor the right to protest” could defend the poster, adding that the act of creating it would receive “the punishment it deserves before the law.”
A group of students encountered a police intervention today as they attempted to hold a press conference at the university’s south gate concerning discrimination against the LGBT community and the arrest of the two students. Others who were on their way to the campus to lend support were also detained.
Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun said the students were detained because they had occupied the building where the rector’s office is located. He added that the occupation came after the controversial new rector, Melih Bulu, issued a statement saying the LGBT+ Student Club had been closed.
“The university administration has rightfully taken the necessary steps against those trying to trample our core values,” he said in a tweet.
Deputies Hüda Kaya, Garo Paylan and Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) arrived on campus to show solidarity with the protestors but were also met with police resistance.
Gergerlioğlu, who is also a human rights activist, said despite the authorities’ claim that the students had been detained because they had “occupied” the university and refused to leave, it was actually the police who refused to let them out.
Two detained students were reportedly hospitalized yesterday. One of them is said to have a broken jaw, and the other suffered a concussion as a result of being beaten in police custody.
Images of snipers on the roofs of buildings around the university have also been widely circulated on social media.
The Boğaziçi University protests have been continuing for a month. Students and some members of staff have been protesting the appointment as rector of Bulu, who was not a member of the staff and without an official election, in front of the university campus and have clashed with the police.
Protests against the latest detentions at the university have spread to other big cities such as Ankara and İzmir, with 15 people detained in Izmir today. Images of policemen pushing students to the ground as they detain them in Ankara have been circulating on social media.
Critics slammed the appointment of Bulu, saying he was unqualified for the job and that a state-appointed rector harmed the independence of the university.
Bulu was a candidate to become a member of parliament from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the 2015 elections and led a district branch of the AKP in Istanbul. He was also the leader of a team of “virtual raiders” that was established to respond to negative comments online towards President Erdoğan and the AKP and to spread pro-AKP propaganda.
There have also been claims that Bulu plagiarized his master’s and Ph.D. theses. Following the allegations, the higher education council closed Bulu’s theses to online access.
In a statement shared on social media, university faculty members said they would not accept the appointment of the rector “as it clearly violates academic freedom and independence as well as the democratic values of our university.”