Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Academics working in Turkey launch the "Don't touch my student!" campaign

Turkish academics launched a campaign to support their students who now live under the increasing threat of getting arrested for basic practices related to freedom of speech. Their slogan, "Öğrencime dokunma!" (Don't touch my student!), has been in circulation in various university campuses where college students have been arbitrarily arrested based on fabricated ties that connect students with "terrorist" organizations, some of which had ceased to exist decades ago (see, for instance, this video from Ankara University, or this one from Boğaziçi University). Now these efforts are united in a nationwide campaign that issued its call last weekend and will have a press conference on Thursday, April 5, at 5 pm, in front of the Galatasaray High School in Beyoğlu, Istanbul. You can visit the website of the campaign here and read the Turkish call of the campaign with the initial list of academics who joined the call here. The English translation of the campaign call is provided below.

We are inviting the instructors of all higher education institutions in Turkey to support their students against oppression, arrests, and the resulting disciplinary investigations.

Come and join us so that our voice becomes stronger:

Don’t touch my student!

We have been witnessing arrests, detentions, and trial procedures that have been troubling our conscience all over the country for some time. A significant proportion of this oppression, which has reached a frightening scale especially during the last year, is focused on university students.

Today the number of arrested students in Turkey is increasing almost every day. It is nearly impossible to access correct and up-to-date data about the number of arrested students because of new arrests, releases, and disciplinary investigations. It is not the number of arrested students (which is expressed in hundreds) that has to be dwelled upon, but rather the mentality that tries to discipline – and, if it cannot succeed in doing that, then to eliminate – students. Most of the offenses attributed to arrested students are united under the umbrella of “terrorism.” The fact that the evidence of the offense in this context includes such documents as lecture notes, books, and water utility bills found at homes; such activities as issuing a press release, protesting the Council of Higher Education (Yükseköğretim Kurulu, YÖK), attending to meetings or commemorative activities, all of which are within the domain of freedom of speech and association; and such daily life practices as having a haircut, carrying an umbrella, wearing a keffiyeh, dancing the halay, or selling concert tickets makes this picture grimmer.

Students, most of whom are detained in high security prisons for years, are also struggling to continue their college education, to access lecture notes and books, and to take exams.

The “Student Disciplinary Regulations of Higher Education Institutions,” which is a product of the 1980 military coup, is used as a complementary tool to intimidate arrested students. Many university administrations show great enthusiasm and hastiness in heavily punishing these students with suspension or expulsion from higher education by launching disciplinary investigations about them –in some circumstances– even before they have been subject to any public lawsuit.

Transforming students, who oppose the model that the state finds appropriate for them, who protest, who support different political opinions, or sometimes simply question that which they are expected to accept as given, into suspects or indictees of “terrorist organizations” without concrete justification or evidence; and trying to make them vanish in endless trial procedures and to discipline them with state violence are absolutely unacceptable.

The foremost responsibility of universities, which constitute the location of scientific production based on freedom of thought and expression, is to look after its students. We, as instructors working at all universities of Turkey, are stating that we will not remain quiet against the targeting of our students with practices of arrest and detention that are continuing with acceleration, against their intimidation by the dispossession of their freedoms, and against their disconnection from universities and life. We are thus calling out to the authorities:

We want to be together with our students in classrooms – with all of them present!