Turkish universities warned to allow headscarves

Some defiant universities maintain ban


Turkey's higher education watchdog warned university chiefs Monday that they risked prosecution if they flouted new laws allowing women students to wear the Islamic headscarf.

Some universities have stood defiant against the constitutional amendments that came into force over the weekend, backed by those who fiercely object to measures they believe will undermine Turkey's secular system.

The Higher Education Board (HEB), which oversees and regulates universities, warned that Turkey's penal code defined as crimes the prevention of the right to education and pressure on individuals to adopt a certain mode of attire.

"This crime can be committed... by obstructing students from entering and exiting buildings where education is provided," it said in a statement on its website.

Three universities in Istanbul, two in Ankara and five in the western city of Izmir have maintained the headscarf ban, along with universities in six other cities, media reports said.

But Selcuk university in the conservative central city of Konya and the Black Sea Technical University in the northern city of Trabzon have started to allow headscarves on campus, the NTV news channel said.

Some university presidents said they would maintain the ban until parliament enacts another bill detailing the dress code and explicitly banning more extreme Islamic attire on campus such as the all-concealing chador and burqa.

"The tenets of the republic... listed in the constitution guarantee the protection and progress of basic rights and liberties and can never be used as justification for limiting the rights and liberties of individuals," HEB added.

Universities remained divided Monday on whether to implement the constitutional changes abolishing the ban on headscarves.

Academics are deeply divided over the change -- with some arguing that lifting the ban could lead to clashes on campus and warning that secularists female lecturers could boycott classes.

Others, meanwhile, have signed an online petition in support of lifting the ban.

Secularist forces, including the army and the judiciary, see the headscarf as a symbol of extremist Islam defying secular tradition.

They argue that allowing the headscarves on campus and in class will encourage conservatives to put pressure on other women to cover up and pave the way for headscarves in secondary education and government offices.

The pro-secular main opposition party has said it will apply to the Constitutional Court to challenge the amendments by the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), which argues that the ban violates freedom of conscience and the right to education.

Many are wary of the AKP's radical Islamist roots and suspect it of having a secret agenda to gradually introduce religious rule in Turkey.