Turkish pop star Gulsen has been arrested on charges of “inciting hatred and enmity” over a joke she made about Turkey’s religious schools, the country’s state-run news agency reported.
The 46-year-old singer and songwriter, whose full name is Gulsen Colakoglu, was taken away for questioning from her home in Istanbul and was formally arrested late on Thursday before being taken to a prison pending her trial.
The arrest sparked outrage on social media. Government critics said the move was an effort by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to consolidate his religious and conservative support base ahead of elections in 10 months’ time.
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The cartoons were based on a joke Gulsen made during a concert in Istanbul back in April when she quipped that one of her musicians’ “perversion” stemmed from the fact that he went to a religious school. A video of the singer making the comments began circulating on social media recently, with the hashtag calling for her arrest.
Gulsen — who had already been the target of Islamic circles for her revealing stage outfits — issued an apology for the offense caused but said her comments were seized on by those wanting to deepen polarization in the country.
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During her questioning, Gulsen rejected accusations that she incited hatred and enmity, telling court authorities that she had “endless respect for the values and sensitivities of my country,” the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
A request that she was released from custody pending the outcome of a trial was rejected.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of Turkey’s main opposition party called on Turkey’s judges and prosecutors to release Gulsen.
“Don’t betray the law and justice; release the artist now!” he wrote on Twitter.
The spokesman for Erdogan ruling party, Omer Celik, appeared, however, to defend the decision to arrest the singer, saying “inciting hatred is not an art form.”
“Targeting a segment of society with the allegation of “perversion” and trying to polarize Turkey is a hate crime and a disgrace to humanity,” Celik tweeted.
Erdogan and many members of his Islam-based ruling party are graduates of religious schools, which were originally established to train imams. The number of religious schools has increased under Erdogan, who has promised to raise a “pious generation”.
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