Seventeen demonstrators, including students from the prestigious Boğaziçi University in İstanbul, were detained after holding demonstrations to protest the recent appointment of a Justice and Development Party (AKP) member as the university’s rector, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Tuesday.
According to a statement released by the İstanbul Police Department, detention warrants were issued for 28 people on charges of “contravening Law No. 2911 on assemblies and demonstrations” and “resisting an officer,” and police from the counterterrorism unit carried out raids on 24 locations in 13 districts of the city early on Tuesday.
Interior Ministry spokesperson İsmail Çataklı said 17 demonstrators were detained as part of the operation on Tuesday morning after protesting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s appointment of Professor Melih Bulu, an AKP parliamentary candidate from İstanbul in the 2015 general election, as the university’s rector.
During Monday’s demonstration in front of the university’s campus in Hisarüstü, which was also joined by students from other İstanbul universities, the students chanted slogans that included “We don’t want a government trustee as a rector,” in reference to trustees appointed by the AKP government to replace democratically elected pro-Kurdish mayors in Turkey’s East and Southeast.
The ruling AKP accuses the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed secessionist group considered a terrorist organization by the United States, Turkey and the European Union, although the HDP, parliament’s third-largest party, denies links to terrorism.
The students also chanted “Universities are ours” and “We don’t want a rector who committed plagiarism,” referring to claims that began to circulate on social media suggesting that Bulu plagiarized parts of his doctoral dissertation and other academic papers.
The students reportedly decided to boycott Tuesday’s classes and continue demonstrations as of Wednesday.
The appointment of Bulu, who holds a doctorate in business administration from Boğaziçi and was previously the rector of the İstanbul-based Haliç University, also attracted widespread criticism from the university, alumni and opposition politicians, who accused Erdoğan of trying to politicize Turkey’s universities and end academic freedom.
Boğaziçi University lecturers said in a joint statement that the move explicitly violates the academic freedom and autonomy of the university, underlining that it was the first time in the Boğaziçi University’s history that someone from the outside had been appointed as rector.
The appointment of the university’s previous rector Mehmed Özkan, who hadn’t even run in the elections for the position, by Erdoğan in 2016 was also the subject of debate and protest.
Turkish presidents used to have the authority to appoint persons who did not come in first in elections for rector, but a presidential decree issued during a post-coup state of emergency declared in 2016 removed the elections altogether.
Founded in 1863, Boğaziçi University, overlooking the Bosphorus, is the first American institution of higher learning to be established outside the US, with over 15,000 students and six campuses on the European side of İstanbul.