This is not the way to turn prisons into schools: 70,000 students behind bars in Turkey

by Gokcan Aydogan    


Turkey has a growing population of university students. College activism is vibrant and robust in Turkey around a number of social and political causes. It provides a fertile ground for political parties’ grassroots organisations and youth branches while leftist and pro-Kurdish movements also heavily rely on activist college students. 

More than 100,000 students are facing trial in Turkey. According to a report of Turkey’s Center for Prison Studies/Civil Society in the Penal System (TCPS/CISST), a total number of 70,000 have either been convicted of a crime or are in pretrial detention in Turkey’s jails currently.

An academic who follows the trials of students in jail and who requested anonymity told one of the newspapers in Turkey, Cumhuriyet, that most of the students are tried in high criminal courts and are thus given long prison sentences.

“Even if they are given the minimum sentence, it starts at five years. In the trials I have followed, some students were given nine-and-a-half years, 12 years and 16 years, and the Supreme Court of Appeals approved some of these sentences,” said the academic.

The number of imprisoned students and students facing trial took off when Erdogan came to power, Viyan Kinali, Solidarity Network with Imprisoned Students (TODA) activist said to The Region. "The charges the students face, the academic said they are more or less the same, politically motivated and unquestionably represents Erdogan's approach to university, students and academy," Kinali told, "that's why the majority of the imprisoned students are Kurdish and leftists."

Many of the students who protested against the purge of academics from universities, joined public rallies to show solidarity with the dismissed professors, supported signatories of a peace memorandum calling for halting military operations in urban centres of Kurdish-majority cities in southeastern Turkey have faced legal probe.

As of November 1, 2017, there were 230,735 people in prison. This number was 178,089 in 2015 and 154,179 in 2014. When the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power in 2002, the number of prisoners in Turkey was 59,429.

Recalling the recent arrest of nine students from Bogazici University on terror charges for opposing an ongoing Turkish military offensive in Syria's Afrin, the academics said many students are jailed for being against war.

In a speech on March 21, Turkish President Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan targeted the BoÄŸaziçi students who were involved in the Afrin protest and described them as “communists, traitors and terrorists” while he called the youths who had set up stands for slain soldiers “believers, local and national.”