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article imageTurkey students reject 'terror propaganda' charge as trial opens

By Fulya OZERKAN (AFP)     Jun 6, 2018 in World

Twenty-two students from a prestigious Istanbul university went on trial Wednesday over a campus protest against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's military campaign in Syria, bitterly rejecting the charges they had spread "terror" propaganda.

Fourteen of the students have been held in jail since their initial detention in March when police stormed students' dormitories at Bogazici University, in a case that has outraged activists.

Dozens gathered outside the main Istanbul courthouse as the trial got underway, unfurling banners reading "Freedom for Bogazici" and "A right to education cannot be blocked".

The accused face jail terms of up to five years if convicted on charges of propaganda for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Doguscan Aydin Aygun, lawyer for the students, told AFP.

Turkey earlier this year successfully carried out a major incursion into the Afrin region of northern Syria with allied Syrian rebels. The offensive ousted the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia, which Ankara brands a terror group and branch of the PKK.

A day after Afrin was taken, a group of students opened a stand on the campus handing out sweets they dubbed "Afrin delight" in memory of the Turkish soldiers killed in the operation.

But another group unfurled a banner with the words "There's nothing sweet about occupation and massacre," in a show of protest.

Erdogan then slammed the anti-war students as "terrorists".

Turkish prosecutors accuse the students of seeking to discredit the army and the state by portraying them as an "occupier" and as an "illegitimate force that uses violence."

- 'Taking her home' -

Giving testimony in court, the students rejected the charges and argued shouting slogans against the government or in favour of promoting peace had nothing to do with the PKK.

"I didn't praise violence or make terror propaganda," accused student Sukran Yaren Tuncer told the judge.

"I shouted slogans like 'Shoulder to shoulder against fascism' and 'No war, peace now'. They are universal slogans and chanted in every demo."

Another defendant, Sevde Ozturk, added: "Some slogans were shouted but they can only be seen as political criticism."

"I reject being stigmatised as a terrorist just because I chanted peace slogans," she told the court.

Some of the students also accused police of beating them in detention.

Authorities detained hundreds of people during the Afrin operation on terror propaganda charges for criticising the operation, raising new concerns about freedom of speech in Turkey.

Founded in the 19th century as Robert College, Bogazici University is considered a bastion of secular and Western-orientated education in Turkey.

Parents of the students attending the trial said that their children were innocent and their education was being unfairly disrupted.

Tevfik Tulay, father of arrested third-year engineering student Uzay, told AFP his son was "now deprived of all his rights to education".

"There is no evidence, he was curious what was going and stayed there merely as a spectator."

Ozgur, whose 18-year-old student Yaren has been held since March 25, said: "I am here to take her home."

"She is innocent. She was taken just because she stood on the right or on the left of a banner," the mother said.

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