By Middle East Affairs
Twenty-two students from the most renowned university in Turkey went on trial on Wednesday on charges of ” terror propaganda”, their “crime” was organizing a demonstration on their campus to oppose President Erdogan’s military involvement in Syria.
Police stormed the Bogazici University dorm room in March, and have kept 14 of the 22 students in prison since then, a move that has outraged activists.
On Wednesday, the day of their trial, family, friends, and supporters stood outside the courtroom with banners that read “freedom for Bogazici” and “a right to education cannot be blocked.”
Doguscan Aydin Aygun, the students’ lawyer said that each convicted student could face up to five years in prison if acquitted, their crime is being considered as propaganda for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
The prosecutor has accused the students of wanting to discredit the army and the state by showing them as an “occupier” and as an “illegitimate force that uses violence.”
The court is also saying that the students shouted slogans favoring the PKK, which all students have rejected.
Sukran Yaren Tuncer, one of the students on trial said to the judge, “I didn’t praise violence or make terror propaganda. “I shouted slogans like ‘shoulder to shoulder against fascism’ and ‘no war, peace now’. She said that they are universal chants that are shouted in many demonstrations around the world.
Earlier this year, Turkey carried out a major operation in Afrin, Syria with Syrian rebels and ousted the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia from the area. Turkey sees the YPG as a terror group and a member of the PKK.
The operation cost many lives on all sides, the next day a group of students in memory of the fallen soldiers handed out Turkish sweets nicknamed, “Afrin delight”, next to them the now accused students, stood with their banners that read “there’s nothing sweet about occupation and massacre.”
President Erdogan has since labeled the anti-war students, terrorists and insisted on their sentencing.
The 22 students are only a small fraction of the hundreds of civilians that have been arrested for criticizing the Afrin operation. Their arrests have been warranted a new level of worry for freedom of expression in Turkey.
Bogazici University is a beacon of intellectual culture, it was founded in the 19th century on a secular and Western philosophy. To this day, it is highly esteemed and many graduates go on to become leaders in all sectors of Turkish society.