Turkey’s top court annuls administrative control over student demonstrations on campus

Students demonstrate against the direct appointment Boğaziçi university's new rector by Turkish President, on January 4, 2021 in front of the University in Istanbul. Ozan KOSE / AFP

Turkey’s Constitutional Court has struck down parts of a law that stipulated disciplinary action on university students for distributing leaflets, hanging banners and organizing unauthorized meetings on campuses.

The decision also prevents university administrations from sanctioning students for alleged terrorism-related offenses for which they have not yet been convicted, such as disseminating “terrorist” propaganda.

The court’s decision, published in the Official Gazette on Friday, revokes provisions of Law No. 2547 on the Higher Education Council (YÖK), which governs the structure and operations of institutions of higher learning. These provisions were introduced in 2023 and have been sharply criticized for stifling the freedoms of expression and assembly.

 In response the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the main opposition party, challenged the law in the Constitutional Court, arguing that it infringed on basic civil liberties.

In its judgment the court determined that the provisions violate constitutional rights to freedom of expression and association.

The ruling comes against a backdrop of declining academic freedom in Turkey, ranked 164th among 179 countries in the 2023 Academic Freedom Index (AFI), which assesses de facto levels of academic freedom around the world.

The index shows Turkey ranking in the bottom 10 percent with a score of 0.09 out of 1, putting it just ahead of countries with strict restrictions such as North Korea, Myanmar and Iran. The country ranks behind Qatar, Egypt and Cuba.

Moreover, a total of 7,316 academics were dismissed in the aftermath of a coup attempt in 2016. Professors and lecturers from nearly all universities in Turkey were targeted in the government’s post-coup crackdown.

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