A riveting report released by Justice Ministry after a request by an opposition lawmaker reveals that there are nearly 70,000 students currently in jail, either convicted or pending trial.
After repeated attempts by Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker Gamze Akkus Ilgezdi, the Justice Ministry made official statistics public and said 69,301 students, mostly college students, are held in prison over “attending illegal activities, terror propaganda, membership to terrorist organizations and joining unlawful protests.”
The opposition party rejects the majority of the charges as politically-motivated. But the staggering numbers point to a serious problem about the country’s criminal justice system and its vaguely-defined counterterrorism laws.
Turkey has a growing population of university students. College activism is vibrant and strong in Turkey around a number of social and political causes. It provides a fertile ground for political parties’ grassroots organizations and youth branches while leftist and pro-Kurdish movements also heavily rely on activist college students.
But authorities’ treatment of protests and activities within the scope of counter-terrorism laws appears to violate freedom of expression and students’ rights to assemble, the CHP says.
Since the failed coup attempt in 2016, the Turkish authorities have ramped up the crackdown on college students linked with pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP) and Gulen movement. Leftist student clubs and organizations also found themselves in the crosshairs of the government, which increasingly abhors any form of dissent in university landscape.
Many of the students who protested purge of academics from universities, who joined public rallies to show solidarity with the dismissed professors, who supported signatories of a peace memorandum calling for halting military operations in urban centers of Kurdish-majority cities in southeastern Turkey have faced legal probe.