The Turkish pop star’s arrest for her mockery of religious schools has sparked a backlash from critics of the government, which appears bent on punishing those who oppose its conservative views.

Pop singer Gulsen was jailed Thursday, pending trial on charges of inciting hatred after a video of her on-stage remarks in April was broadcast by a pro-government media outlet.

Turkish pop singer Gulsen was jailed on Thursday pending trial on charges of inciting hatred.
Depot photo via REUTERS

“He had previously studied at Imam Hatip (school). That’s where the distortion comes from,” Gulsen says lightheartedly in the video, referring to the musician in her band.

President Tayyip Erdogan, whose Islamist-rooted AK Party first came to power 20 years ago, himself attended one of the country’s first imam hatip schools, which were established by the state to train young people to become imams and preachers.

Sabah, a state-run newspaper, published the video on Wednesday, saying Gulsen had previously been criticized for “her actions on stage, skimpy clothing and holding an LGBT flag”.

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to Gulsen’s words on Twitter, with Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag condemning what he called “primitive” remarks and an “outdated mentality”.

“Inciting one section of society against another, using hateful and discriminatory language in the name of being an artist is the greatest disrespect to art,” he wrote.

On Thursday, Gulsen apologized to anyone offended by her remarks, saying she had been captured by some who wanted to polarize society.

Support the singer

Gulsen’s lawyer, Emek Imre, told Reuters her legal team had challenged the formal detention decision on Friday, saying her detention was illegal and irregular from the start.

“We expect everything to be done according to the law. My hope and expectation is that this (arrest) decision will be reversed,” he said.

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

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

Gulsen was taken from her home in Istanbul for questioning.
Gulsen was taken from her home in Istanbul for questioning.
Depot photo via AP, file

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

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

“Whoever talks nonsense, are we going to jail pending trial? Let society suffer its punishment,” said Mehmet Barlas in his column in Sabah.

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

Erdogan and the AK Party say Turkey’s courts are independent.

Lawyer Oke said the case showed that the country’s judiciary is not independent, referring to the jailing of philanthropist Osman Kavala, Kurdish supporter Selahattin Demirtas and several other politicians and journalists in recent years.

“The Gulsen case has shown again that the Turkish judiciary is the government’s greatest weapon,” he said. “You feel that your life and liberty are in danger if you live in a way other than those in power.”

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