ANKARA (Reuters) - A Turkish court on Tuesday jailed nine university students, pending trial, on a charge of spreading terrorist propaganda after they protested against Turkey’s military offensive in northern Syria, state-run Anadolu news agency said.
The protest took place last month when a group of students at Istanbul’s Bogazici University organised a rally in support of Turkey’s offensive against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in the northern Syrian region of Afrin, and also distributed Turkish delight from a stand on the campus.
A rival group of students then staged a counter-rally with a banner that read “Invasion, massacre cannot be marked with Turkish delight”, prompting President Tayyip Erdogan to call them “terrorists” and authorities to launch an investigation.
Six other students whom prosecutors had also wanted jailed were provisionally freed pending their trial, Anadolu reported.
The prosecutors’ office could not immediately be reached for comment.
Prosecutors said the students had acted in line with Kurdish militants and had attempted “to portray the Republic of Turkey and the Turkish Armed Forces as forces that were invading and using violence, and therefore engaging in illegitimate actions in the region”, the Hurriyet news website reported.
Following the anti-war protest, Erdogan said the students would not be allowed to study at university.
“We will find these terrorist students by means of footage and will do what is necessary. We won’t give these terrorist, communist youths the right to study at these universities,” Erdogan said last month.
“We will catch those marginals by the ear and hurl them to the ground,” he told members of his ruling AK Party.
The chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kilicdaroglu, said it was not the president’s place to determine the fate of students.
“Who are you not to let them study? Are universities your father’s property? Universities are not designed from the top of the state,” Kilicdaroglu said, likening Erdogan to a dictator.
Last month Turkish forces drove the YPG militia, considered by Ankara a terrorist organisation linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), from the town of Afrin after a nearly two-month operation.
Since the start of the offensive, Turkish authorities have detained hundreds of people for social media posts and protests criticising the operation.
Erdogan also vowed to strip the word “Turkish” from the name of the 83,000-member Turkish Medical Association (TTB) after the group publicly opposed the military campaign.
Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay in Ankara, Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul; Editing by Daren Butler and Gareth Jones