Turkish court orders release of two students jailed over protests

The students face charges for protesting against the appointment of a rector at Bogazici University last October.

A student demonstrator is being restrained on the ground by a plainclothes officer (unseen)
Plainclothes police officers detain a demonstrator during a gathering in solidarity with Bogazici University students who were protesting against the appointment of a new rector of the university [File: Stringer/Reuters]

A Turkish court has ordered the release of two university students who have spent three months in the first hearing of a broader case over campus protests against the government’s appointment of a rector at Istanbul’s Bogazici University.

Berke Gok and Perit Ozen, who were jailed pending trial, were released on Friday. The students were charged with violating the law regarding demonstrations, preventing public officials from doing their duty and intercepting a vehicle among other crimes.

The protests briefly spread elsewhere in Istanbul and to other cities, and led to the brief detention of hundreds of people.

The two students were expected to walk free from Istanbul’s high-security Silivri prison later on Friday, lawyer Gokhan Soysal told the DPA news agency, but the trial against them and 12 other students will resume on March 21.

The court imposed a travel ban on the two, the lawyer added.

In advance of the hearing, students gathered in support of the defendants near Istanbul’s main court holding signs demanding their freedom.

Burcin Sahan, a lawyer for the pair, said after the hearing that “judicial harassment” against the students needed to end.

The defendants were among a group of protesters who in October blocked rector Naci Inci’s car. A person climbed on the car, according to the Istanbul governor’s office.

Sergey Lagodinksy, a member of the European Parliament, said before the ruling that the charges against the students should be dropped and called their detention “absolutely unjustified”.

“Expressing your opinion publicly and peacefully is a fundamental right,” he said on Twitter.

Students and faculty members from the Bogazici University, some of whom have gathered daily with their backs turned on the rector’s building, said the protests will continue until a rector is chosen by university members and academic freedoms were secured.

Numerous people have been targeted in connection with the protests and police used force against peaceful demonstrators.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had even claimed protesters had alleged terrorism links.

A separate court trial against 97 defendants will resume next week.

Source: News Agencies