We talked to students and their lawyers about the disciplinary investigations processes brought against the students took part in demonstrations at Boğaziçi University.
In addition to police violence, detentions and unlawful trials faced by the students holding demonstrations at the Boğaziçi University, they are now subjected to pressures inside the campus. Most conspicuous examples of such oppressive actions are those unlawful uses of excessive force and abuse of the authority by private security guards in and around the campus, and initiation of totally biased disciplinary investigations criminalizing the freedom of expression, free speech and right to hold peaceful demonstrations.
Many administrative irregularities have been observed during initiation and handling of those disciplinary investigations initiated on the basis of reports kept by the members of Special Security Unit (SSU; Özel Güvenlik Birimi, ÖGB). Students are under constant scrutiny by means of CCTV cameras and subject to having been blacklisted by the SSU guards resulting in various penalties for their innocent non-criminal actions based on fake evidences gathered illegally. Accordingly, students feel anxious about those investigations for the same may result in disciplinary actions, as well as penalties ranging from the denial of right to education to risking losing their scholarships.
We talked to Berke, one of those many students penalised because of disciplinary investigation initiated against him.
Adverse effects of SSU (ÖGB) reports in investigations
Disciplinary investigations are being processed pursuant to provisions of Student Discipline Regulations of Council of Higher Education (YÖK). According to these regulations, the right to initiate an investigation on a disciplinary offence lies with Deans and the Directors of Graduate Institutions, where, in general, Dean assigns some academics to set up a disciplinary commission and the said commission investigates the events and comes up with a proposal. However, Dean has the final say whether to approve the penalty proposed by the commission or opt for a different penalty on his own discretion.
The very first step in those investigations, initiated along with the beginning of demonstrations, were those reports provided by SSU (ÖGB). Those false, dodgy and unverified reports, which could not have been accepted as true and solid physical evidence in any proper jurisdiction, were treated by disciplinary commissions as true, substantial and unbiased evidence. In those reports, produced by the SSU, events were totally presented in a very biased manner. As this was not enough, after a while most of those reports were also evolved into something into which various penalties defined in Student Discipline Regulation were simply copied and pasted, instead of the actual events that took place.
Those accusative reports went as far as to allege that even those students, who duly proved that they were simply absence in the campus at all, had taken place in demonstrations. Due to such wrongful allegations, some students were even penalised because of such SSU reports. In addition, some of those SSU reports did not include any date information at all, and names and the signatures of some of those SSU staff on those reports were redacted when they were given to students to make their statements. Although the names and signatures of such SSU staff were clearly visible on those early reports when they were handed to the students, the later ones contained no name and no signature to deter the students from filing complaints against them on the basis of false claims. As a result of such actions, the students were no longer able to file their complaints against such false allegations. As these actions were not enough, most of the visuals presented as “evidence against the students” were gathered using unlawful methods; such as recording with hidden cameras attached to the lapels of the jackets worn by the SSU staff.
The second step in those investigations was to ask Deans by writing to initiate investigations pursuant to provisions of Article 12.(1-a) –provision reading that right to initiate any disciplinary investigation solely lie with the Deans- in line with petitions prepared by Secretary General’s Office with all such false SSU reports attached thereat. Although the deans are/were not in fact legally obliged to initiate such investigations since those petitions were executed and signed by the Assistant President, it was rather clear and obvious that deans were nevertheless put under pressure, by systematic use of that specific hierarchical tone and relevant provisions, to initiate those investigations. Well, in the end, all such pressures were resulted in initiation of investigations by the deans even though most of them were dropped in due course.
More than 500 investigations, 11 suspensions
Despite all those unlawful allegations and actions, in the beginning, many of those investigations did not result in disciplinary penalties; most of the penalties were limited to warnings and reprimands. Having been appointed as the Trustee, what Mr. Naci İnci had done was to initiate disciplinary investigations against the deans alleging that they failed to fulfil what were asked of them. While the investigations against those Deans were ongoing, six students were given penalties of temporary debarment for participating in the demonstrations for the first time, which was criticised by the students as a reflection upon the students of those pressures upon the deans, which was followed by the discharge of three faculty deans very soon after with “none-elected” Appointee Trustee Naci İnci appointing himself as a dean, along with Fazıl Önder Sönmez and Gürkan Kumbaroğlu as two other deans. With the placement of those Appointee Deans, other penalties of suspensions soon followed.
Disciplinary investigations, only held for issues such as academic plagiarism or sexual misconduct up until that time, were now being hold against the students who were detained by the police during the said demonstrations.
Some ungrounded reasons, such as “to build a tent”, “to attempt to build a tent”, “to raise LGBTI+ flag” without a prior permission, etc. which has no reference in regulation, or vague expressions such as “to provoke crowds”, “to cause noise pollution” etc. that were not subject to any disciplinary actions as far as the regulation is concerned, were used. However, hanging banners and posters ‘without permission’ in the higher education institution, distributing leaflets inside the campus ‘without permission’ and organizing an event ‘without permission’ are mentioned as disciplinary offences in the regulations of Council of Higher Education (YÖK). While the aim of these activities is to protest the notion of having an Appointee Rector, students find it illogical to request permission for such activities from the Appointee authorities. The disciplinary commission which was charged to investigate these kinds of actions and make a judgement must decide according to the regulations of Council of Higher Education (YÖK), and in this case the academics of this commission need to make decisions contradictory to their resistance against to have an Appointee rector.
During the demonstrations more than 500 disciplinary investigations were initiated, with 11 of them resulting in suspension penalties (ranging from one week to 7 students, one month to 3 students and, one semester to one student) and the other investigations resolved with warnings / condemnation penalties.
“I forgot to make my statement at one those hearings for there were too many
Berke, facing many judiciary and disciplinary actions for taking part in demonstrations, explains the purposes of investigations and initiation processes thereat:
“I am now subject to at least 10 disciplinary investigations with almost 30 allegations. They initiate the investigations against the students who were frequently seen in those demonstrations. They aim to discourage and to intimidate the demonstrators. SSU gathers information about the demonstrators using illegal methods; such as taking notes of the name and student ID while the student uses his/her card on the gate or by harassing by means of other methods, and such obtained information were used for to initiate disciplinary investigations. These investigations were based on the false accusations and statements of SSU staff.”
Berke says that having forgotten to attend one of those disciplinary hearings to defend himself and his consequent absence was simply regarded as his pleading guilty with the investigation resulting in a warning.
However, the relevant article of the regulation defining the right of defence includes that if the defendant cannot attend the disciplinary hearing in person after receiving a notification, the hearing will be considered as abandoned without a defence, and any other evidence will be considered in decision process. Berke said that although disciplinary commission, authorized to conduct the Berke’s last investigation, had decided for his case be resolved with a warning penalty, Appointee Rector Naci İnci acted as the Dean -the position he appointed himself- and decided Berke’s suspension for one month. According to the regulations, any decisions for permanent removal of any student from a higher education institution or implementation of a penalty lasting for one or two semesters should only be made by the disciplinary commission. Therefore, suspension for one month is the highest penalty can be given by the acted Dean (and Appointee Rector) Naci İnci.
A new ground in investigations: Consuming of alcoholic beverages
Latest disciplinary investigations are based on consuming of alcoholic beverages which is a disciplinary offence according to the regulations of Council of Higher Education (YÖK). However, consuming of alcoholic beverages in and around the campuses that have recreational areas for the students never caused any problems until such a time. In the recent months, the students were harassed and aggravated by security staff patrolling around the campus during the late hours of the day and recording alcohol consuming students to video. ID cards of at least six alumni has been confiscated and they banned from entering the campus for a one-year period on the grounds of alcohol consuming and warned accordingly.
Students reiterated that they did not accept such “legal but illegitimate practises”, just as they did say when opposing the explanation brought with respect to appointment of an illegitimate rector.
The attorney: “Those investigations are unlawful”
One of the attorneys of the students facing disciplinary investigations explained the legal status of the files as follows:
“The most striking element in the disciplinary investigations at Boğaziçi University is that the investigations about those students, who used their right to demonstrate as their constitutional right, are based on some false accusations, silly allegations and biased reports filed by the security staff.”
“The names of the security staff in these reports are hidden. And this is the essential sign that the administration acts illegally because these investigations have no concrete evidence. The reported person in the investigation was not being associated with alleged accusation, there is no proof of that person’s involvement and the investigation do not present any concrete evidence because there is no crime determined.”
“The actions of these students stay within the range of freedom of expression, and they demand to have their education in a democratic environment. It’s been revealed that the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office sent a notification to the university ordering some of the disciplinary investigations should be initiated. And sending this kind of notification to a university is against the principle of separation of powers. While during the investigations all the evidence for and against the defendant of the disciplinary offense, such as gathering the documents, listening to witnesses, making explorations, and consulting the experts for inspecting the sound and visual materials of the video recordings should be collected, in some of the investigations only the evidence that were against the defendant gathered.”
“These disciplinary penalties are unjustified in purpose and unlawful in determination. Also, these unjustified penalty decisions are usually without any reasoning, and no remark for appeal has been stated.”