Turkish pop star Gulsen apologized on social media ahead of her arrest, but a government spokesman called her comments a “disgrace”.
Turkish pop star Gulsen was arrested on Thursday after a prosecutor in Istanbul opened an investigation into charges of “incitement to hatred and hostility” over a remark she made onstage about religious schools, local media reported.
Singer Gulsen Bayraktar Colakoglu – a 46-year-old woman known by her first name – was detained at home in Istanbul and brought to trial.
A judge then sent her to jail pending an investigation into comments she made at an April concert about Imam Hatip’s religious schools.
A clip of the comments went viral this week, sparking outrage among senior members of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s conservative AK party.
Gulsen is a household name in Turkey and her case has made headlines in the highly polarized country.
In the controversial remark, Gulsen remarked to an unknown person on stage, in apparent jest, that his “perversion” was caused by his upbringing in an Imam Hatip school.
“Attacking a fraction of society with the charges of ‘perversion’ and trying to divide Turkey is a crime of hatred and shame of humanity,” said AK party spokesman Omer Celik.
Gulsen apologized on social media prior to her arrest.
“A joke that I shared with my colleagues with whom I have worked for many years … was spotlighted and published by those who want to polarize society,” she said.
“I am sorry that my words have given material to malicious people who want to polarize our country.”
Gulsen’s attorney Emek Emre promised to appeal the star’s arrest and request her immediate release.
“Our client committed no crime,” he told reporters.
Erdogan and his ruling AK party will need a strong turnout from their core of socially conservative voters to reverse a shift in the polls ahead of the general election in June.
The state-run Diyanet, or Religious Affairs Directorate, has seen its budget and public influence grow in recent years, leading to accusations that Erdogan is using religion to boost his ratings ahead of next year’s tight election.
Supporters of Erdogan say the measures are a reversal of anti-religious dictates issued by the AK party’s fiercely secular predecessors in government.
Critics say Erdogan has manipulated the courts to deal with dissent and free speech, the government denies.
The Turkish opposition has seized Gulsen’s case to increase their support.
CHP party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu called on Thursday for Turkish youth to come out next year to vote to save artists like Gulsen from jail.
“I call on the youth: These unjust statements must end,” Kilicdaroglu said in a social media post.
“They are trying to rule this country by provoking and dividing you.”
The belated news of Gulsen’s arrest prompted some Fenerbahçe football fans to sing one of her songs during a Europa League match in Istanbul against Austria Vienna.
Posts on social media showed that part of the packed stadium joined in the song in solidarity with the imprisoned star.