Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has urged an Istanbul university to expel students arrested after an anti-war demonstration.
Referring to 15 students arrested at a peaceful protest at Boğaziçi University last month, President Erdogan said that the students were “communists, traitors and terrorists” and should not be allowed to attend university, the Turkish Minute news website reported.
“Those are terrorist youths. We will conduct investigations into them. After identifying them, we will not let them get an education at the universities because a university is not a place for educating terrorist youths,” said President Erdoğan during a speech at the congress held by his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
However, more than 1,200 academics have signed a petition calling for the release of the students, stating that their arrests “continue a disturbing trend of criminalising political speech and dissent in Turkey”.
The letter, penned by the Academic Solidarity Network, asks the Turkish government for the immediate release of the 15 students in the days after a peaceful protest in Istanbul on 19 March against the ongoing Turkish military offensive in the Afrin region of Syria.
The letter, whose signatories include Nobel laureates Eric Wieschaus and Jack W. Szostak, adds that the arrests on campus and police raids of student homes and dormitories follows the trend seen after the crackdown on free speech since the failed anti-government coup of 2016.
The letter has been sent to Mr Erdoğan, who used his speech at the AKP congress to praise students who had set up a stand on campus to honour slain soldiers in the Afrin conflict, calling them “believers, local and national”.
The academics’ letter says that the signatories “strongly oppose the recent arrests and harassment of students at Boğaziçi University in İstanbul, Turkey”.
“President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has cynically referred to these students as ‘terrorists’, vowed to expel them from Boğaziçi University, and to deny them the right to study at any other university,” it continues, adding that “we have heard this kind of verbal attack from Erdoğan before and it was followed by the detention of thousands of academics, journalists, artists, and human rights advocates”.