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Pop singer’s arrest slammed for displaying politicization of Turkish judiciary

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The recent arrest of famous Turkish pop singer and songwriter Gülşen Bayraktar Çolakoğlu, part of an investigation into her due to remarks that allegedly insulted the graduates of religious imam-hatip schools in Turkey, has attracted condemnation and anger from opposition politicians, musicians and social media users.

The singer was detained at her home in İstanbul’s Beşiktaş district on Thursday afternoon and was subsequently arrested after appearing in court on Thursday evening for saying on stage during a concert in April, “He had attended an imam-hatip in the past, his perversion comes from there,” referring to an imam-hatip school graduate whose identity hasn’t been revealed.

Religious imam-hatip schools are known for providing the grassroots of the political Islamist movement in Turkey, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, also an imam-hatip graduate, and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have been trying to increase their number.

Following her detention, Gülşen issued a written statement on social media, apologizing to “anyone who feels uncomfortable and hurt” for her uttering words that “have given material to malicious people who aim to polarize the society in our country.”

Criticism of Gülşen’s arrest mainly focused on the argument that the arrest and pretrial detention for the singer’s alleged insult violated the principle of proportionality, making her case yet another example that reveals the increasing politicization of the Turkish judiciary under AKP rule.

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu on Thursday condemned Gülşen’s arrest in a series of tweets.

“Don’t betray the law and justice; release the artist at once!” Kılıçdaroğlu said, addressing judges and prosecutors of the case.

Canan Kaftancıoğlu, head of the CHP’s İstanbul branch, shared the singer’s apology in a tweet, saying that it is “so valuable” for her to feel what she did was wrong and to say she was sorry for it.

Addressing the government, she added: “You have not only arrested Gülşen by means of a judiciary that has been politicized, instrumentalized and even made hostile, you once again attacked such human virtues as making peace, asking for forgiveness and forgiving.”

“Gülşen’s words were hurtful, she admitted it herself. … But the retribution shouldn’t have been an arrest. … Pretrial detention should be an exception,” Ali Babacan, leader of the opposition Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) and former AKP heavyweight, said.

Harun Tekin, a Turkish musician and poet who is one of the founding members and the vocalist of the rock band Mor ve Ötesi, said Gülşen was arrested “because she doesn’t dress, speak or be as demanded” by the government.

“We feel shame, worry, and anger. Release Gülşen!” Redd, a Turkish rock band, tweeted.

The Turkish Bar Association (TBB) on Thursday released a written statement regarding the development, saying that the disproportionate use of detention would “reduce trust in the independent judiciary and damage the belief in a fair trial.”

Underlining that the “arbitrary and disproportionate” use of detention meant a violation of the right to personal security and freedom, the TBB said this “unlawful practice” should be immediately reversed.

Many say the country’s judiciary further lost its independence after a failed coup in 2016, following which Erdoğan’s AKP government launched a massive crackdown on non-loyalist citizens on the pretext of an anti-coup fight and removed 4,156 judges and prosecutors from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree-laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny.

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