Transsexual Turkish singer on trial

Popular transsexual singer Bulent Ersoy, 56, shows her ID card as she speaks to the media in Istanbul, Turkey. Ibrahim Usta / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A popular transsexual Turkish singer went on trial Wednesday on charges of trying to turn the public against military service.

Bulent Ersoy could face more than two years in prison for saying during a live television show that if she had children, she would not want them to join the army to fight Kurdish rebels.

Military service is obligatory for men over the age of 20 in Turkey, and it is a crime to speak against it.

The European Union, which Turkey wants to join, is pressing Turkey to do away with laws that stifle free expression.

Under EU pressure, Turkey amended a law in April that barred the denigration of Turkish identity and institutions. The law had been used to prosecute Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk and other intellectuals.

But human rights groups said the changes did not go far enough and pointed to other freedom-curbing laws, such as the one used against Ersoy.

Ersoy, who underwent a sex-change operation in 1981 to become a woman, is one of Turkey’s best-loved singers. She was barred from appearing on stage during the 1980s after a military coup by generals who disapproved of her.

Ersoy, 56, made the comment in February while appearing on the jury of a Turkish version of television show “Pop Idol.”

At the time, the military had sent thousands of troops to northern Iraq for a weeklong cross-border offensive in pursuit of rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, who maintain bases there.

In an indictment against Ersoy, prosecutor Ali Cakir accused the singer of “alienating the public toward military service” and of affecting the morale of the soldiers and their families. He asked that the singer be punished with between nine and 30 months in prison.

In the indictment, Cakir cited a Turkish proverb that says: “Every Turk is born a soldier.”

Ersoy, who sings a traditional brand of Turkish music and often dresses in flamboyant evening gowns, did not appear in court in Istanbul on Wednesday. Her lawyers said she had a singing engagement that was arranged before the trial was scheduled.

The court ordered her to appear at the next hearing, set for Sept. 24. She could be brought to court by force if she fails to turn up.