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 people protesting against the detention of four students after images were shared on social media of them laying a picture on the ground that mixed Islamic images with LGBT symbols.
Police entered campus later in the day to disperse students who were planning an all-night vigil outside the rector’s building. They 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,” Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said in a statement on Twitter, referring to Islam’s most sacred site which was depicted in one of the images.
“Should we tolerate the LGBT deviants who attempted to occupy the rector’s building? Of course not.”
In a rare move, Twitter placed a warning on Soylu’s tweet, as well as another from the weekend that used the same phrase, saying they violated rules about hateful conduct. It added the tweets were not taken down as it might be in the public interest that it remain accessible.
Twitter’s move comes after Turkey last year required social media firms to appoint a representative in the country to deal with requests for content removal, and Erdogan vowed to defend what he called Turkey’s “cyber homeland”.
Facebook, Youtube and others have complied. Twitter has not, meaning its bandwidth may be reduced in coming months.
Academics again gathered on Tuesday on the Bogazici campus with backs turned to the rector’s building in protest. They chanted “Melih Bulu resign,” and carried signs reading “159”, the number of those detained on Monday.
In Ankara, police clashed with protesters, some of whom chanted: “Shoulder to shoulder against fascism.” Footage showed police dragging protesters away, hands cuffed behind their back. State-owned Anadolu agency said 69 people were detained.
Turkey’s presidency communications director, Fahrettin Altun, said Monday’s protests came after 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 criticised the protesters, with Erdogan praising his party’s youth wing 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. Erdogan’s supporters say he has restored freedom of religious expression in a once strongly secular republic.