Turkish pop star’s arrest over religious schools joke draws heavy criticism

ANKARA, Aug 26 (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 determined to punish those who oppose his conservative views.

Pop singer Gulsen was jailed on Thursday awaiting trial on charges of inciting hatred after a video of a remark she made on stage in April was released by a pro-government outlet.

“He studied at an Imam Hatip (school) before. That’s where his perversion comes from,” Gulsen says lightly in the video, referring to a musician in his band.

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

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

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reaction to Gulsen’s remarks, with Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag condemning what he called “primitive” remarks and an “outdated mentality”.

“To incite one part of society towards another by using reluctant, hateful and discriminatory language under the guise of being an artist is the greatest disrespect towards art,” he wrote.

On Thursday, Gulsen apologized to anyone offended by his remarks, saying they had been seized upon by some who want to polarize society.

Thousands of people on social media have spoken out in favor of Gulsen, saying she was 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 the support of the LGBTI movement,” said Veysel Ok, lawyer and co-director of the Media and Studies Association. legal.

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

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

“Are we going to imprison pending trial whoever says nonsense? Let society distribute its punishment,” Mehmet Barlas said in his column in Sabah.

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

Erdogan and his AK party claim that Turkish courts are independent.

But 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 others politicians and journalists.

“The Gulsen case showed once again that the Turkish judicial system is the government’s greatest weapon,” he said. “It makes you feel that if you live in a way other than those in power, your life and your freedom are in danger.”

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Reporting by Ece Toksabay

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