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University students charged with "praising crime" after calling for their peers' release from prison

(BIANET/IFEX) - 22 June 2011 - Seven university students are facing charges of "praising crime and a criminal" after they voiced support for two other students who were arrested in March 2010 for demanding free education.

The two students arrested in 2010, Ferhat Tuzer and Berna Yilmaz, were charged with "membership in an illegal organization" after they posted a banner reading "We want free education" during a speech by Prime Minister Erdogan. Subsequently, fellow students set up an information booth to support them in the city centre of Edirne (western Turkey).

Tuzer and Yilmaz's trial is still pending. They are facing imprisonment of up to 7.5 years each and will have been in detention for 18 months by the time of their hearing in October.

As reported by the "Radikal" newspaper, seven members of the Edirne Youth Association (EGD) set up an information booth in a park in Edirne on 6 May 2011 to voice their demands for the release of Tuzer and Yilmaz. They also started a seven-day hunger strike.

The young people distributed leaflets about their calls for free education and for the release of their friends. The police asked them to remove the booth because the "prohibition prior to the election" had started. When the students resisted, the police removed the booth and took them into custody.

In the court case opened against them, the seven students are facing prison sentences of up to five years each on allegations of "praising crime and a criminal" and "resistance to a police officer on duty".

At the latest hearing in the trial against Tuzer and Yilmaz, on 25 May before the Istanbul 10th High Criminal Court, Prosecutor Kasim Ilimoglu requested the students' acquittal. He said that the protest carried out by the students fell within legal boundaries and within the right to freedom of expression of opinions. The court, however, decided to keep both students in detention.

On 22 June, a hearing will be held for an interim decision on the detention of Tuzer and Yilmaz. Members of the Youth Federation organised a protest in front of the Besiktas Courthouse on 21 June in support of their friends.

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