Reuters . Updated Tue, February 2, 2021, 12:32 PM
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s interior minister on Tuesday condemned protesters at a top Istanbul university as “LGBT deviants” in a statement which Twitter deemed as hateful conduct.
Students and teachers at Istanbul’s Bogazici University have held protests for the last month against the appointment of Melih Bulu as rector by President Tayyip Erdogan, which they said was undemocratic.
On Monday, scuffles broke out between police and those protesting against the detention of four people after images were shared on social media of them laying a picture on the ground that mixed sacred Islamic imagery with symbols supporting LGBT issues.
Police entered campus later in the day to disperse students who were planning an all-night vigil outside the rector’s building and detained 159 in total throughout the day, the governor’s office said.
Istanbul police said 61 people were still detained and were giving statements on Tuesday.
“Should we tolerate the LGBT deviants who insult the great Kaaba? Of course not. Should we tolerate the LGBT deviants who attempted to occupy the rector’s building? Of course not,” Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Twitter, repeating a phrase that sparked outrage amongst students and rights groups over the weekend.
In a rare move, Twitter placed a warning on Soylu’s tweet, saying it violated rules about hateful conduct but added it decided to keep it on the site as it might be in the public interest for it to remain accessible.
Turkey’s presidency communications director, Fahrettin Altun, said Monday’s protests were a response to the university’s decision to block an application to set up an LGBTI club – which he said tried to “trample our values underfoot”.
The government has harshly criticised the protesters, with Erdogan praising his party’s youth wing on Monday for “not being the LGBT youth.”
The main opposition CHP has supported the protests and several parliamentarians from the pro-Kurdish HDP were turned away at the university’s entrance on Monday.
Erdogan’s critics say the president and his AK Party, which promotes conservative Islamic values, have eroded social rights and tolerance during their 18 years in power. Erdogan’s supporters say he has restored freedom of religious expression in a once strongly secular republic.
Bulu, who applied to be an AKP candidate in a 2015 parliamentary election, was the first rector chosen from outside a university since a military coup in Turkey in 1980, Bogazici faculty members have said.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans, William Maclean)