Since taking power in 2002, Turkey’s ruling AKP party has taken Kafkaesque measures to target the opposition: anti-democratic steps which have been trivialised for a long time. Today, more than 800 students are imprisoned for political reasons, mainly Kurds and leftist activists. They are held and tried for membership or propaganda of terrorist organisations. More than often, proofs are shaky. Many of the imprisoned have done nothing besides legal activism. Police and prosecutors compile books they have read and movies they have watched, survey demonstrations and meetings they have joined and record slogans they have shouted as well as random phone conversations. Since one and a half years, a youth group called TÖDİ has campaigned in solidarity for the detained students, staging actions, following trials and providing information about their situation.
At a time when the Turkish government is increasingly implementing neoliberal policies and wants to get its own back on secular elites, academicians as well are put under pressure. The cases of detained academicians are fewer, but they usually get more media attention than the imprisoned students. Prominent political scientist Büşra Ersanlı, who has published works critical of Turkish nationalism, was detained from November 2011 to July 2012 as she was convicted along with hundreds of people in the KCK trial, accused of belonging to the alleged urban wing of the PKK guerilla. Other academicians too who are working on Kurdish rights, minorities or public health issues are facing court investigations. Another common phenomenon is disciplinary sanctions by the universities to marginalise dissenting voices. In order to protest these violations of academic freedom in Turkey, an international group of academics have founded the GIT initiative.
Caner Ertay, 21, studying for an English test in his flat in Eskişehir. On the wall behind him are anti-government posters from the Öğrenci Kolektifleri students collective to which he belongs.
The Istanbul Courthouse near Mecidiyeköy, where many students are being tried. The courthouse building is the largest in Europe, something the Turkish government takes pride of. In Kartal, on the Asian side of Istanbul, the largest courthouse in the world just opened.
Kadir Ev and Oğuz Yüzgeç in Öğrenci Kolektifleri’s office in Istanbul. The two shared the same cell during their nine month detention.
Kadir Ev, 20, is a student at Istanbul University and like Ertay a member of Öğrenci Kolektifleri. For nine months, Ev was detained in a high security (F-type) prison. The next hearing of his trial will take place on April 2.
Istanbul University, February 21. The placard reads: “Capital get out – the universities are ours!” Professors and students demonstrate against the university chancellor disciplining two research assistants.
Istanbul University’s famous main gate. Students and professors demonstrate for academic freedoms on February 21. The procession is leaving the campus to speak to journalists who were not allowed to get in.
Elif Demir and Seçil Ercan, two Istanbul Technical University research assistants, are protesting against the casualisation of their jobs and, more widely, the growing job insecurity in Turkish universities.
Maçka Campus, The School of Foreign Languages at Istanbul Technical University.