The democratic resistance of Boğaziçi University started on Jan. 2, 2021 with the appointment of Melih Bulu as its rector. It seems like the resistance will carry on in the future. Though the state has attempted to suppress this resistance in the most disproportionate and unlawful of ways, the entire institution, whether students or professors, have joined the protests.
Last week, 10 students were detained and 24 people were placed under house arrest. The judiciary has lost all credibility and every resistance movement is now punished with the harshest of measures. President Erdoğan and his government have been criminalizing anyone supporting or partaking in the resistance. According to the Turkish government, anyone who endorses the protests is either a terrorist or a traitor. We’re all too familiar with this approach and are sick and tired of hearing it or arguing against it.
The students wish to be governed by people they elect themselves, just as democratically elected leaders govern the country itself, like it is stated in the constitution. The government’s understanding of democracy is crystal clear in its actions. It is terrified at the prospect of losing its power as election time nears. It is only natural that it would want to get rid of those elections at all levels of the state apparatus. It also assumes that appointing people to all state institutions will translate into automatic support for their rule. Yet we all know that tyrannical governments which trample on human dignity are doomed to collapse.
The students who are protesting demand their electoral rights to be upheld. For several days now, the Turkish government has demonized the educated strata of society by calling them “elitists”, “terrorists” or “lesbians”.
As lawyers, we always insist during court cases that LGBT+ rights are nothing less but basic human rights. What we’re now witnessing on the part of the government cannot be comprehended by a sound mind. The students are being detained through a disproportionate use of force. Their time in custody is extended unlawfully or they get driven from one place to another when there isn’t enough room for them in jail. They are rear-handcuffed and kept inside vehicles for hours. Sometimes, they’re not given enough water.
We’ve even witnessed an incident during which one detained student in a police car, whose hands were rear-handcuffed, managed to get take off his facemask. Though in a state of panic, the student was able to write “ambulance” with his nose on the vapor of the window. He even wrote the word in reverse so people could read it.
We, the lawyers, publicized this incident. We announced that the curtains of the police car were drawn after this and no ambulance was called. Government trolls lynched us on social media for days and pro-government media castigated us. As a lawyer, if you report such scandalous treatments, you automatically become a “terrorist”.
I also took part in the detained student’s court proceedings only to learn that a 63-year old man with a heart condition suffered health troubles in the vehicle and no ambulance was called.
The police do not provide any information as to where they bring the detainees. As a lawyer, I often dedicate half my energy to figuring out where detainees are, either in hospital or at police stations. The police are always present in the examination room in which doctors examine the detainees. Thus, beating marks on the body are not recorded. The detainee only spends a few minutes with the doctor, which means the Istanbul protocol, as well as fundamental penal law principles are violated.
Police are also present inside courts. Getting them to leave the room so the laws are properly enforced involves a tremendous deal of effort.
Maltreatment runs rife. For example, I recently saw a student who was brought in for a health check after being detained for 24 hours and was crying. I asked why her she was crying. “They made us listen to a dreadful song at full blast in the police car” she said.
That song is known as the “Riot Police Song”. Its criminal and barbaric words are subject to prosecution. That qualifies as nothing less but psychological violence and torture. In a state that respects the rule of law, such policemen should be prosecuted.
One of the students approached me and asked, “Are we going to be accompanied by the same guys on our way back?” At that point, I couldn’t stop myself from pleading the policemen to stop forcing the students to listen to the song. The police replied with a smirk.
In Turkey, the police tortures the country’s brightest students with envy and anger. While some policemen are respectable and wish to carry out their jobs properly, they get caught in those situations. I feel sorry for them as well.
Recently, the police also prevented us from delivering a vegan sandwich to a vegan student who was held in custody. That’s how low they’ve become: turning a sandwich into a weapon against “terrorist students”.
As a policeman snatched the sandwich, I felt like crying. Not only for the student who was held in custody, but for the state of our country. In recent times, I’ve often caught myself mumbling the words “How did it get to this?”. I simply can’t grasp how mere students can be labeled “terrorists”.
The court proceedings, meanwhile, are appalling. Those students were arrested with the Article 32/1 of Act No. 2911 which deals with the non-dispersion of people despite warning and forceful action. Two individuals were arrested under this charge.
And during court hearings, the judges treated us as “terrorist lawyers”. We were guilty of defending the victims. The lawyers who protested unlawful treatment were subject to physical assault at the courthouse, i.e., their workplace.
Last but not least, they arrested a student named Beyza in Turkey’s third largest city, İzmir, on preposterous grounds. They arrest people when the first and last letters of a person’s email address coincide with the letters of an email account, or when one or two digits of a person’s telephone number coincide with the account of a telephone number.
Such methods are especially used when they want to arrest people for “insulting the President.” This is why the government wants social media platforms to have representatives in Turkey.
Twitter does not provide proof of identity to Turkey. The government thinks that proof of identity can be attained if Twitter appoints a representative here. Twitter has even put Trump’s account on hold! It will not listen to the Turkish government’s demands. In fact, Twitter has started banning the tweets of Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) as well as that of Süleyman Soylu, Turkey’s Interior Minister, last week because of hate speech. Why should Twitter give information to a government that continuously violates fundamental human rights?
The resistance at Boğaziçi University carries on. So do the arrests, detentions and house arrests. It seems like neither the government nor the protestors will back down. The more the government increases its oppression, the deeper it will sink. Their rule will inevitably end one day with an election.
One of the protesting students, Şeyma, has taught us a lesson. She showed everyone that being a practicing Muslim and defending human rights are two separate things. Just like her, we have to be sure of our objectives, defend our rights and never falter. Only then will we live in a democracy as free and equal citizens.