Four students have been arrested in Turkey over an artwork that reportedly depicted LGBT rainbow symbols alongside an image of a sacred Islamic site.
Students at Bogazici University in Istanbul have been protesting against the appointment of a rector.
The Istanbul Governor’s Office said the artwork was an “ugly attack” that “mocked religious beliefs”.
The interior minister tweeted that the students were “deviants”, drawing an angry response from activists.
While homosexuality has been legal throughout modern Turkey’s history, official opposition to the LGBT community has grown in recent years. The Istanbul Pride march was banned for five years in a row up to 2019. Covid prevented any attempt to hold it in 2020.
Public opinion is generally conservative and the LGBT community has reported widespread discrimination and harassment.
The artwork reportedly depicted LGBT rainbow symbols alongside the Kaaba, the building at the centre of the Masjid al-Haram – the Great Mosque – in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the most sacred site in Islam. There was also an image of the Shahmaran, a popular Middle Eastern mythical creature, half woman and half snake.
Ibrahim Kalin, chief adviser to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said “neither freedom of expression nor the right to protest” could defend the artwork, adding the act would receive “the punishment it deserves before the law”.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu tweeted that “4 LGBT deviants who committed the disrespect to the Kaaba-i Muazzama were detained at Bogazici University”.
The comment drew an angry response from some on social media, who referred to it as hate speech, and called for the tweet to be deleted.
But conservative and pro-government social media users also posted comments condemning the students.
The student protests concern the appointment as rector of Prof Melih Bulu, who the demonstrators believe has close links to Mr Erdogan’s AK Party.
Supporters of the arrested students demanded their release via the “Bogazici Solidarity” Twitter account.
Another account said: “LGBTI+ phobic speeches have no place in Bogazici values”.