Turkish pop star Gulsen Colakoglu has been jailed pending trial on charges of “inciting or insulting the public to hatred and enmity” after she made a joke about religious schools in Turkey, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.
The charges appear to be related to a video circulating on social media from a Gulsen concert in April, when she joked about one of the musicians.
He “graduated from Imam Hatip (religious schools). That’s where his pervert side comes from,” she said.
Several Twitter users could be seen sharing the video on Thursday with a hashtag calling for her arrest and saying it is offensive to associate the schools with perverts.
Gulsen denies that she has committed any crime and is appealing the arrest, according to her lawyer Emek Emre.
After her detention, Gulsen shared a message on her official Twitter and Instagram accounts, apologizing to “anyone who was offended” by the joke and saying it had been twisted by “malicious people who aim to polarize our country.”
“I made a joke with my colleagues, with whom I have worked for many years in the business. It has been published by people who aim to polarize society,” she said.
“In defending the freedom I believe in, I see myself thrown towards the radical end that I criticize. I apologize to anyone who was offended by my speech in the video,” she said.
She later said in a testimony that it was an “unfortunate joke” and asked to be released, saying she had a child depending on her and that she would come to court or a police station when needed, according to Anadolu.
Gulsen has previously been targeted by Turkish conservative groups for her revealing stage outfits and support for the LGBTQ community.
The Muslim majority country is officially secular but highly polarized over issues surrounding secularism, religion, women’s rights and LGBTQ rights.
Imam Hatip schools, which teach religious studies alongside the Turkish curriculum, have grown in the two decades that the conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been in power. The schools are known for training young people to become imams or preachers. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attended the school, as did many AKP party members.
Controversy in Turkey
Reactions to the arrest have come from ordinary Turks, celebrities, and even political parties.
After her arrest, social media posts showed Gulsen fans in a packed soccer stadium singing her songs in solidarity.
The award-winning British-Turkish novelist Elif Shafak called for Gulsen’s release, as did other cultural figures.
“I deeply regret the arrest of the artist @gulsen. She was targeted for boldly advocating for women’s rights, LGBT+ rights, secularism, democracy, and pluralism. This is a lynching campaign. It is neither lawful nor conscientious. Free at once. #gulsenserbestbırakılsın,” she tweeted.
Iconic Turkish pop star Tarkan also took to Twitter on Friday, writing that “this injustice to Gulsen must end and Gulsen must be released immediately.”
“Those who prosecute the ones without arrest and sometimes even release them without trial who sexually abuse children, murder women, rape women, but when it comes to Gulsen, they take action quickly. Our legal system, which ignores those who are corrupt, steal, violate the law, slaughter nature, kill animals, use religion as a tool for their own bigotry ideas and polarize society, arrests Gulsen at one whack,” he also wrote.
Members of the AKP defended the arrest, with AKP spokesperson Omer Celik saying “inciting hatred is not an art form” in a Twitter post.
Turkish Minister of Treasury and Finance Dr. Nurettin Nebati tweeted, “Our Imam Hatip High Schools are our distinguished institutions that raise generations equipped with our national and moral values and have moral maturity. I strongly condemn this distorted language and the distorted mentality behind it, which targets our youth studying at our Imam Hatip Schools, and I find it unacceptable.”
Meanwhile, the leader of Turkey’s main opposition party described the backlash against Gulsen as a manufactured controversy intended to “set our young people against each other.”
“The winds of peace have been blowing for a long time among young people with different lifestyles. The goal (of the arrest) is to take a joke that has exceeded its purpose and set our young people against each other. It is to stay more in power, and more to steal and snap,” Kemal Kilicdaroglu wrote on Twitter.
The presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey are both scheduled to happen early next summer.