Court releases two students who had been in pre-trial detention for 47 days, lifts house arrest of one student. Trial adjourned until 5 July
CANSU PİŞKİN, ISTANBUL
The trial against seven university students charged with “inciting hatred and hostility” under Article 216/1 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) for taking part in protests against Boğaziçi University's newly appointed rector, Professor Melih Bulu, got underway on 17 March 2021 at the Istanbul 21st Criminal Court of First Instance.
P24 monitored the hearing, where students Doğu Demirtaş and Selahattin Uğuzeş, who have been jailed pending trial for 47 days, Sena Nur Baş, who has been under house arrest, and Eda Kalafat, Mahmutcan Bodrumlu, Rümeysa Özüyağlı and Hazar Kolancalı were in attendance, accompanied by their lawyers.
The indictment, issued on 24 February 2021 by a prosecutor from the Press Offences Investigation Bureau under the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, accuses all seven students over a depiction of the Kaaba in an exhibition put together on 29 January on the Boğaziçi campus as part of protests against the appointment of rector Bulu. The indictment cites excerpts from a report by the pro-government Yeni Şafak newspaper about the exhibition as evidence against the students. Claiming that the exhibition was a “provocation,” the Yeni Şafak report wrote that a picture of the Kaaba “was placed on the ground with an LGBT rag thrown over it.”
Addressing the court in response to the accusations in the indictment, lawyer Levent Pişkin said the indictment, which includes numerous religious references, was against the principle of secularism in Article 2 of the Constitution. Asserting that the indictment also fails to meet the requirements in the Criminal Procedure Code, Pişkin said the document lacked legal qualities and that therefore it should be rejected by the court. Pişkin said the act did not involve the elements of the offence described in TCK 216/1 and requested the immediate acquittal of the defendants.
The court rejected Pişkin’s request on the grounds that the 15-day period prescribed for a court to reject an indictment has expired.
The students then addressed the court for their defense statements. Rejecting the charges against them, the students demanded to be acquitted.
Uğuzeş explained to the court that upon finding out about a warrant against him, he went to the Taksim Police Station, where law enforcement officers tried to get him to sign a written statement despite the fact that he did not give a statement because he did not have a lawyer. Uğuzeş added: “The police report they tried to get me to sign claimed that I had admitted to being one of the four people who hung the picture. I refused to sign it. I only visited this exhibition and I have been in pre-trial detention for 47 days based on an accusation I don’t understand.”
Sena Nur Baş, who has been under house arrest as part of the case, told the court that there were numerous works in the exhibition and that the said piece was not the only one placed on the ground. After hearing Baş’s defense statement, the court issued an interim ruling lifting Baş’s house arrest.
Hazar Kolancalı, whose house arrest was lifted last week, told the court that they did not know who made the work featuring the Kaaba. “This should be investigated. Only 15 minutes after it was put on display, pictures of that work were being shared on Twitter. … We staged the protest to defend the independence of the academia. … This is a work of art, it is a piece conveying an opinion, it should be interpreted within the viewpoint of the artist.”
After the court heard all seven students and their lawyers, the prosecutor demanded the continuation of the detention of Demirtaş and Uğuzeş, citing “flight risk.”
Issuing an interim ruling at the end of the hearing, the court ruled for Demirtaş and Uğuzeş’s release and set 5 July as the date for the second hearing. The court also granted all seven students exemption from attending upcoming courtroom hearings.