Turkish pop star's arrest over religious schools 'joke' stirs fierce criticism

The arrest triggered a swell of support for Gulsen, with many saying she had been targeted for her 'liberal views'

DW August 27, 2022


Opponents and even some supporters, of the Turkish government, have responded to the arrest of pop star Gulsen over a joke about religious schools with condemnation.

The singer was jailed on Thursday, pending trial. She was charged with inciting hatred after a quip she made on stage in April was broadcast by a conservative, pro-government media outlet. The arrest triggered a swell of support for the singer, with many saying she had been targeted for her 'liberal views.'

Another Turkish pop star, Tarkan, also came out in support of the detained artist on Friday, saying in a tweet, "Our legal system — which turns a blind eye to corruption, thieves, those who break the law and massacre nature, those who kill animals and those who use religion to polarise society through their bigoted ideas — has arrested Gulsen in one whack."

What was the joke that led to Gulsen's arrest?

The incident goes back to a quip made by the 46-year-old singer during a concert in Istanbul about a musician in her band who she said had attended a religious school, joking that this was the source of his "perversion."

"He studied at an Imam Hatip [school] previously. That's where his perversion comes from," she could be seen saying, light-heartedly, in a video posted on the Sabah newspaper's website. The pro-government outlet added that she has previously drawn criticism for "actions she displayed on stage, extremely low-cut dresses and holding up an LGBT flag." 

The video attracted the ire of several ministers from the ruling conservative AK Party, which has Islamist roots. Many of the party's members, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, studied at Imam Hatip schools.

"Inciting one part of society toward another using begrudging, hateful and discriminating language under the guise of being an artist is the biggest disrespect to art," Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag wrote on Twitter.

How have critics responded?

Government critics have said that the arrest is a cynical ploy to shore up support among conservative, religious sections of the electorate with polls due in ten months. The leader of the main opposition party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, called for Gulsen's release.

Even some pro-government columnists criticised the move, with Mehmet Barlas writing in Sabah, "Are we going to jail pending trial anyone who speaks nonsense? Let society dole out her punishment."

Several prominent figures critical of the Turkish government have also ended up in prison in recent years, including philanthropist Osman Kavala and progressive, pro-Kurdish political leader Selahattin Demirtas.

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