ISTANBUL: Turkish prosecutors on Tuesday demanded jail terms for 97 people who joined student demonstrations against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s appointment of a party loyalist as the rector of a top university.
The indictment said the suspects defied a ban on rallies imposed as part of measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the Anadolu state news agency reported.
Prosecutors are seeking jail terms from 6 months to 3 years due to the suspects’ non-compliance with a law on “unarmed participation in unlawful rallies and refusal to disperse despite the warnings”, Anadolu agency said.
No date was given for the first hearing.
The protest movement — the biggest to rattle Erdogan’s rule in years — began when the Turkish leader appointed longstanding ruling party member Melih Bulu as rector of Bogazici University at the start of the year.
The rallies kicked off inside the campus grounds before spreading to the streets of Istanbul and other large cities with the backing of government opponents and supporters of broader LGBT rights.
The indictment specifically refers to a February 1 demonstration in Istanbul in which multiple groups defied police warnings and rallied outside the university’s locked gate.
Police arrested nearly 108 people that day. 97 of them were released afterwards and an investigation was launched against them by the prosecutor’s office, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors are conducting separate inquiries against the 11 remaining people, one of whom is underage.
The student protests had echoes of 2013 demonstrations that sprang up against plans to demolish an Istanbul park before spreading nationally and posing the first big political dilemma for Erdogan.
He has compared student demonstrators to “terrorists” and the rector at the root of the protests has refused to give in to demands to resign.