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Students in Turkey face three years in jail for LGBT rainbow picture of Islam’s holiest site during protests

STUDENTS who unveiled a banner showing Islam’s holiest site adorned with the LGBT rainbow colours face up to three years prison in Turkey after prosecutors charged them today with inciting public hatred.

The students are from Istanbul’s Bogazici University, which has been the centre of anti-government resistance since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a decree appointing his political ally Melhi Bulu as rector.

Two of those who displayed the banner depicting the Kabaa in Mecca with LGBT imagery have been held in custody since January 30, with prosecutors seeking between one and three years’ imprisonment for “inciting hatred and animosity.”

Products with the rainbow colours or LGBT references must now be sold in Turkey with an 18-plus rating “to protect children” and, while homosexuality is not illegal in the country, Pride marches are often banned on spurious safety grounds.

Students insisted that the charges were politically motivated and accused the authoritian president of seeking to shore up his support among conservatives, who are growing disenchanted due to a deepening political and economic crisis.

“This is Erdogan’s punishment. He is behind this case, but he will not win as the protests will just get bigger,” one student told the Morning Star, adding: “We will stand in solidarity with all of those brought before Erdogan’s courts.”

If the indictment is accepted, the students will appear before the Criminal Court of First Instance.

The university has been at the centre of a political storm since the January 1 appointment of Mr Bulu, the first rector from outside the university since the 1980 military coup.

What initially started as protests in defence of academic freedom have since developed into a much broader anti-government demonstrations.

Mr Erdogan has vowed to do everything in his power to stop the movement becoming a new Gezi, a reference to a wave of 2013 protests that nearly brought down the government.

More than 500 people have been detained since the protests began, with the president branding the students “terrorists” and accusing them of taking instructions from “those in the mountains,” meaning the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Students have called Mr Bulu the “trustee rector,” comparing him to the officials imposed by the government to run municipalities in the largely Kurdish south-east after it removed Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) mayors from office.

On Thursday, students teamed up with striking council workers in Istanbul, joining their picket lines and dancing while chanting solidarity slogans.

The Bogazici resistance has seen the emergence of a new coalition of forces that includes Figen Yuksekdag’s Socialist Party of the Oppressed (ESP), Partizan and the Democratic Regions Party (DBP), the sister party of the HDP.

But the government has responded with repression and scores of people have been arrested.

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