Student protests continue in Turkey despite police force, jail threats

December 15, 2010

Student protests against government officials showed no signs of abating in Turkey on Wednesday despite continued harsh responses from police and politicians and ongoing threats of jail time for those participating in demonstrations.

One student is facing up to two years and four months in prison for throwing an egg at State Minister Egemen Bağış at a protest in Ankara, while two others have been under arrest for nine months pending trial for holding up critical posters during an appearance by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Istanbul.

Erdoğan was also the target of the latest student protest, which took place Wednesday at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, where the prime minister was chairing a Science and Technology High Council Meeting to determine the country’s science policies.

Student demonstrators chanted slogans against Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, protesting the police presence at the university and saying they had not been allowed to enter the hall where the meeting was being held.

Lack of participatory rights was also at issue in a Dec. 4 protest in Istanbul, where student groups demonstrated outside a meeting between the prime minister and university rectors, demanding their right to be present at the talks. Ankara University students who later protested the excessive use of police force in that incident were pepper-sprayed by police.

Pepper spray was likewise used at the METU protest Wednesday, where police took into custody 21 students who refused to disperse. Speaking on behalf of the protesters, Uğur Yıldırım said they were demonstrating against the earlier police actions in Istanbul and Ankara. The protests at METU were ongoing when the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review went to press.

While some of the protesters at METU threw snowballs at the police, hurling raw eggs has been a more common tactic at recent demonstrations. One student, Nihal Çarıkçı, is being charged with insulting State Minister Bağış for throwing eggs at him during a conference in September at Ankara University, reportedly ruining the left shoulder of his jacket.

Ankara Prosecutor Fuat Hazer is seeking a prison term of between one year and two years and four months for Çarıkçı, daily Milliyet reported Wednesday. Her egg throwing was deemed an attack on a public official’s honor, pride and prestige, allowing it to be prosecuted as a crime. The first trial in the indictment against Çarıkçı will be held at the sixth criminal court in Ankara on Feb. 10.

Two Roma students who held up posters saying “We want free education” during Erdoğan’s meeting with the Roma community in March were ordered Tuesday to remain under arrest, daily Milliyet reported. The students are accused of “being a member of a terrorist group” and “making terror propaganda,” crimes that carry a penalty of six to 15 years in jail.

The arrested suspects, Ferhat Tüzel, a mechanical-engineering student at Trakya University, and Berna Yılmaz, an anthropology student at Ankara University, participated in the trial held at the 10th High Criminal Court along with fellow suspect Utku Ayar, who is being tried without arrest.

During the trial, the suspects’ lawyers said their clients did not belong to outlawed organizations and that asking for free education is not a crime.

Supporters of the suspects protested the order that Tüzel and Yılmaz remain under arrest until the trial resumes May 24, 2011, chanting, “They only opened posters. May God give those vampires punishment.”

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