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[World] Turkish singer Gulsen arrested over religious schools joke

Turkish singer GulsenImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
Gulsen is viewed as Turkey's Madonna.

Turkish singer Gulsen has been arrested and accused of inciting hatred over a joke she made about religious schools.

In April, the singer joked a member of her band's "perversion" was due to him having attended one.

Despite the comments being old, they recently went viral online, drawing criticism from conservative circles.

Critics say the arrest is a bid by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to consolidate support ahead of elections next year.

Before her detention, Gulsen - who is viewed as Turkey's Madonna - had apologised on social media and suggested her words were seized upon by those who aim to "polarise society".

Writing on Twitter and Instagram, the singer said that while she was "defending freedom of expression" with her "joke between colleagues" she apologised "to everyone who was offended".

She is being held pending trial.

President Erdogan, whose AK Party first came to power some 20 years ago, studied at one of the country's first Imam Hatip religious schools which were founded by the state to educate young men to be imams and preachers.

Many others in government have also attended the institutions.

The singer, whose full name is Gulsen Colakoglu, has previously been criticised by conservative elements of Turkish society over her clothing and support for LGBT rights.

The 46-year-old's arrest has split the country, with conservative and pro-government supporters widely describing her remarks as "insolence", while more liberal and pro-opposition voices criticised her arrest as disproportionate and reactionary.

The move also comes amid ongoing discussions around the AKP's alleged "interventions into lifestyles", in addition to recent bans on a number of music festivals in the country.

Many Twitter users condemned Gulsen's arrest, with some contrasting it to the lack of legal action against a theologian who recently suggested killing those who do not perform prayers.

Harun Tekin, vocalist for popular rock band Mor ve Otesi, said a female artist was arrested "for not dressing and talking as they [the government] imposed".

Lawyer Feyza Altun said the decision has "no legal reason" and argued that Gulsen was arrested due to her stage outfits, beliefs, "defiant attitude" and support for LGBT people.

While some criticised Gulsen's remarks, they argued that her arrest was a step too far.

"I'm also a [graduate] of a religious high school," conservative opposition journalist Nihal Bengisu Karaca said.

"I was also hurt by Gulsen's insult.

"I showed my reaction by writing an article... But why is Gulsen being arrested? What's the aim here?"

However, others on social media praised the arrest for "setting a good example of what will happen to those who cross the line".

"Calling someone from a school, a football club or an ethnicity a 'pervert' is a hate crime," columnist Fuat Ugur said.

Pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak ran the headline: "The clown crossed the line."