Turkish pop star’s arrest over religious schools quip stirs fierce criticism

By Thomson Reuters Aug 26, 2022 | 9:58 AM

By Ece Toksabay and Daren Butler

ANKARA (Reuters) – The arrest of a Turkish pop star over a quip she made about religious schools has drawn a fierce response from critics of the government, who see it as bent on punishing those who oppose its conservative views.

Pop singer Gulsen was jailed pending trial on Thursday on a charge of incitement to hatred after a video of a remark which she made on stage in April was broadcast by a pro-government media outlet.

“He studied at an Imam Hatip (school) previously. That’s where his perversion comes from,” Gulsen says in a light-hearted manner in the video, referring to a musician in her band.

President Tayyip Erdogan, whose Islamist-rooted AK Party first came to power some 20 years ago, himself studied at one of the country’s first Imam Hatip schools, which were founded by the state to educate young men to be imams and preachers.

Sabah, a pro-government newspaper, published the video on Wednesday, saying Gulsen had previously drawn criticism for “actions she displayed on stage, extremely low cut dresses and holding up an LGBT flag.”

Several ministers took to Twitter in reaction to Gulsen’s words, with Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag condemning what he called “primitive” remarks and an “antiquated mentality.”

“Inciting one part of society towards another using begrudging, hateful and discriminating language under the guise of being an artist is the biggest disrespect to art,” he wrote.

On Thursday, Gulsen apologised to anyone offended by her remarks, saying they were seized upon by some who want to polarise society.

Thousands on social media spoke out in support of Gulsen, saying she was being targeted for her liberal views and support for LGBT+ rights.

“I think she is under arrest because she is a figure representing secular Turkey and an artist sensitive to giving support to the LGBTI movement,” said Veysel Ok, a lawyer and co-director of the Media and Law Studies Association.

“I think they were looking for an excuse to arrest her and found it with the quip four months ago,” he told Reuters in an interview in his Istanbul office.

In a rare move, several staunchly pro-government columnists criticised Gulsen’s arrest.

“Are we going to jail pending trial anyone who speaks nonsense? Let society dole out her punishment,” said Mehmet Barlas in his column in Sabah.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said the arrest was aimed at polarising society to keep Erdogan’s AK Party in power.

Erdogan and his AK Party say Turkish courts are independent.

But the lawyer Ok said the case showed that on the contrary, the judiciary in Turkey is not independent, referring to the imprisonment of philanthropist Osman Kavala, pro-Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtas, and many other politicians and journalists.

“The Gulsen case has shown again that the Turkish judiciary is the biggest weapon of the government,” he said. “It makes you feel that if you live in a way other than that of those in power your life and freedom is in danger.”

(Reporting by Ece Toksabay)