Amnesty International (AI) launched an online campaign on June 1, calling for the release of Turkish rapper Ezhel, who was put in pretrial detention last month after he was accused of publicly promoting drug use through his lyrics, music videos and social media posts.
Ömer Sercan İpekcioğlu, more commonly known as Ezhel, was summoned by the police on May 23 after a complaint was submitted to the Prime Ministry’s Communications Centre (BiMER) by a citizen who claimed that the rapper was encouraging drug use through his art.
Ezhel, who was previously detained and released after questioning on similar accusations in December 2017, may face up to 10 years in prison.
AI said Ezhel is a prominent figure on the Turkish rap scene and is known for his dark depictions of street life in urban Turkey. He was questioned over two songs that refer to the use of cannabis and a now-deleted social media post displaying a photograph of the rapper holding a cannabis leaf. The court decision to put Ezhel in pretrial detention contained no material evidence that he has actively promoted the use of drugs.
In it campaign AI points out that Ezhel’s detention is “in violation of his right to freedom of expression, as protected under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) to which Turkey is a state party,” while noting that he has been detained solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression.
The 28-year-old rapper, a native of Turkey’s capital city of Ankara, is a rising star on Turkey’s rap scene. His music video “Şehrimin tadı” (The taste of my city) has over 30 million hits on YouTube, and his song “Geceler” (Nights) has been streamed over 13 million times on music streaming platform Spotify.
Thousands of tweets carried the hashtag #FreeEzhel on the worldwide trending topics list hours after news of the multi-instrumentalist artist’s arrest was reported. In a letter he recently wrote from prison, Ezhel explained that his time behind bars has been inspiring as he slammed censorship in Turkey.
AI has appealed people to write immediately in English, Turkish or their own language calling on Turkish authorities to ensure that Sercan İpekcioğlu (Ezhel) is released immediately and unconditionally as he has been detained solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression; that any ongoing investigations in relation to his legitimate artistic expression and social media posts be closed; and to fully respect and protect the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression in Turkey.