Boğaziçi’s Students Resort to Clubhouse

Online Opposition Platform in Pandemic Times
Turkish plain clothed police officers hold a group of protesters during a demonstration in support of Bogazici University students - arrested as they were protested against the nomination of a university rector appointed by the Turkish President - in front of the Istanbul's courthouse, on February 11, 2021. (Getty)
A group of protesters make a human chain as they wait outside the courthouse during the demonstration. The first trial of the students who are facing a criminal charge for protesting against Melih Bulu, who was appointed as the rector of Bogazici University, took place in Caglayan Courthouse. A call for solidarity was made to support the students. (Getty)

Ankara – Students of Boğaziçi University have recently found a new safe haven in the recently growing platform of Clubhouse, after their protests were crushed by Turkish authorities. In early January, students took to the streets following the appointment of Melih Bulu as the rector of Boğaziçi University, since he was a former member of the ruling Justice and Development Party led by the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Thousands of Boğaziçi students created rooms on Clubhouse, the audio-only application, to discuss university education mechanisms and support the protest movement which is likely to persist, particularly now that Ankara is intending to separate female students from male students in some Turkish universities, a move that opposition parties consider as a step in the transformation of Turkey’s “secular” identity.

Turkish lawyer Ülkü Şahin said, “Intensive downloads of Clubhouse is due to its novelty. During their protests, people need it to exchange their ideas, and students need it in particular.”

She told Majalla that authorities detained seven students who used Clubhouse, but released them later, which means that the new platform does not protect its users and does not differ much from other social media applications that are prevailing in Turkey.

The lawyer, who works in the Journalists' Union of Turkey where she focuses on violations against media people and defends them if detained over social media activities, added that “voice broadcasts of students via clubhouse are within the statutes governing freedom of expression which should not be punished by authorities.”

Şahin ruled out the possibility of the app being banned in Turkey as it happened in China. However, she revealed that “Ankara may impose some restrictions” on the new app within the framework of the government’s social media law imposed last year.

Given the restrictions caused by Covid-19, Turkish students found in the American app a platform to exchange ideas and opinions, especially after the government imposed curfew several times in some areas.

Some of those who participated in the Boğaziçi protests told local media that Clubhouse has prevented circulation of false news about their recent activities since media people joined their rooms.

Remarkably, the app provided them with opportunities to meet influential figures who joined the platform, such as Ahmet Davutoğlu, the former prime minister, and Canan Kaftancıoğlu of the opposing Republican People’s Party (RPP), as well as other officials.

The Boğaziçi protests broke out in early January as a rejection of Bulu’s appointment by Erdogan’s party, as the head of the university which is one of the most prestigious in Turkey. The law prevents appointing incumbent or former party members as university rectors, but it has not been applied since the failed coup attempt to oust Erdogan in 2016, when the elections of university heads were cancelled.

Since then, the Turkish President has been appointing rectors through presidential decrees. Last February, he appointed 11 rectors across the country’s universities.

Last Wednesday, the Republican People’s Party leading figure Canan Kaftancıoğlu held a press conference in Istanbul to reveal that her party will listen to the testimonies of the seven participants of the demonstrations, two of whom have been detained by authorities.

“Protests of Boğaziçi’s students are tentatively going on against a backdrop of university shutdown due to Covid-19. Universities are closed and education is taking place online, which reduces the number of student protestors,” University Professor Vahap Coşkun told Majalla.

Coşkun, who is a lecturer in a Turkish state university, added, “The authorities did nothing to address the students’ demands and their refusal to accept the appointment of someone who is close to the Turkish President. Even some professors have joined the Boğaziçi protests.”

The Turkish President’s ally and Deputy Prime Minister Devlet Bahçeli, who leads the Nationalist Movement Party, called for punishing professors who reject Melih Bulu’s appointment. He even demanded that authorities interrogate and fire them, thus increasing their participation in the protests.

Despite over two months of protests, the rector whose appointment is rejected by students is still holding office.