ISTANBUL — A Turkish pop singer could face up to three years in prison after she was indicted Friday for “inciting hatred and enmity” over a joke she made about religious schools in the country.
Singer-songwriter Gulsen was jailed last week but was released four days later and placed under house arrest.
The charges stem from a joke the singer made during a concert in April, when she quipped that one of her musicians’ “perversion” came from attending a religious school. A video of the singer’s comment began circulating on social media recently, with a hashtag calling for her arrest.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and many members of his Islam-based ruling party are graduates of religious schools called Imam Hatip, which were originally established to train imams.
The 48-page indictment has 702 complainants, including from individuals, a pro-government women’s rights organization and an association from the religious school. Turkey’s penal code criminalizes incitement of hatred and enmity against different groups in society based on class, race, religion or sect, requiring a prison sentence in cases that lead to threats against public safety.
In her statement to the police included in the indictment, Gulsen said she had joked with a band member whose nickname was “imam” but who had not attended the school. “I never said this to insult or denigrate students of Imam Hatips or a segment of our country. My respect for all values and sensitivities of the country is eternal,” she said and denied the charges.
The 46-year-old singer, whose full name is Gulsen Colakoglu, had previously become a target in Islamic circles due to her revealing stage outfits and for unfurling an LGBTQ flag at a concert.
A court has to approve the indictment for the trial to begin. A request by Gulsen’s lawyer for her to be released from house arrest was rejected.