Students Appear in Court in the LGBTI Flag Trial

A lawsuit had been brought against 12 students detained for unfurling an LGBTI+ flag during the protests against the government-appointed president of Boğaziçi University. On June 3, the students appeared in court for the first time.

A solidarity call was publicly announced to gather before the courthouse in Istanbul’s Çağlayan neighborhood prior to the hearing of the case against 12 Boğaziçi University students. In reaction, Kağıthane District Governor’s Office banned all protests on and around the square before the courthouse for the day. Early in the morning, prior to the hearing at Istanbul 24. Criminal Court of First Instance, the police took extensive measures in front of the courthouse. The square in front of the courthouse was blocked with police barricades, and large numbers of riot police and water cannons arrived in the area. Only a narrow corridor was left open in the square for those, who wanted to access the courthouse.

A large number of people arrived before the courthouse to support the students on trial for allegedly “participating in an illegal, unarmed meeting or rally, and not dispersing despite the police warning.”

Remarkably, the court allocated only three minutes for the hearing

As a large crowd continued to wait outside the courthouse, another group entered the building and gathered in front of the courtroom. Only the students on trial and their lawyers were allowed into the courtroom. Since the courtroom was small, the students’ families and friends who came for support were not allowed to attend the hearing.

Journalists were allowed to monitor the hearing only from the door of the courtroom.

The lawyers’ request for the hearing to be shifted to another courtroom was rejected. The courtroom in question was one of the smallest in the courthouse. The reason for the selection of a small courtroom for such a high-profile case was put as “lack of available courtrooms,” in one of the biggest courthouses of Turkey, comprised of 18 blocks. Commonly dubbed as ‘Caglayan Courthouse,’ the building – infamous for trials identified to be political o controversial – is officially called Istanbul Justice Palace.

The hearing started with an ID check for the students. The presiding judge reminded that the students’ photographs had been requested in advance and asked them to hand over their photographs for a comparison with the recorded footage.

After the ID check, students’ lawyer Levent Pişkin delivered a defense speech, demanding that the court lift the probation measures – namely, periodically giving signatures at police stations and an international travel ban. Pişkin argued that the probation measures had turned into a sanction. “There is no risk of flight, and the students delivered their defense speeches. There is no new evidence. We demand an immediate end to the probation measures.”

Pişkin also requested the immediate acquittal of the students

In his judicial opinion, the trial prosecutor requested the continuation of the probation measures regarding the students until all their defense speeches are completed.

In his decision, the judge lifted the probation measure of giving signatures at police stations. But decided the continuation of their international travel ban. The judge also rejected the lawyers’ request for acquittal.

The next hearing is scheduled for June 28th.

All because a LGBTI+ flag was flared

A student had waved an LGBTI+ flag on top of the main gate of Boğaziçi University’s South Campus on February 1st, and in reaction, a disciplinary investigation had been initiated by the university administration. Before the disciplinary committee’s meeting on March 25th, a group of students staged a protest within the university campus carrying LGBTI+ flags in support of their friend, and four of them were detained by the police.

Eight students protesting the detention of their friends were themselves detained at the gate of the North Campus. The following day, all the detained students were brought to the Istanbul Courthouse in Çağlayan. Other students arrived before the courthouse to stage a protest in solidarity with their detained friends, and more students were detained during this protest.

In its indictment, the Terror Crimes Investigation Bureau of Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office stated that the students “placed LGBTI+ flags on their shoulders,” and were “part of the group that staged a protest, unfurling LGBTI+ flags and colors.” However, there is no explanation in the indictment as to how these actions might constitute a crime.

The indictment also states that the “terror archive records” of the students detained for allegedly resisting the police were checked; however, the students had no precedents.

In the indictment, 12 students are charged with violating “Law no. 2911 on Meetings and Demonstrations.” Each student faces six months to three years in prison.

What is Happening at Boğaziçi University?

The protests at Boğaziçi began in January against President Tayyip Erdogan’s appointment of a rector at Istanbul’s prestigious Boğaziçi University; and briefly spread in Istanbul and other cities in February, leading to the detention of 600 people and some clashes with police.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu repeatedly labelled the students “LGBT deviants” and Erdogan praised his AK Party’s youth wing for not being the “LGBT youth.”

Protests have continued on campus, with students and academics gathering daily to protest what they say was the undemocratic appointment of Melih Bulu, an academic and former political candidate, as rector.