Turkey frees jailed pop star after public outcry

An İstanbul court on Monday ordered the release pending trial of one of Turkey’s biggest pop stars, after her jailing over a religious joke sparked an outcry among fans and government foes, Agence France-Presse reported.

Singer Gülşen Bayraktar Çolakoğlu, 46, who goes by the stage name “Gülşen,” was jailed last Thursday on charges of “inciting hatred” over a quip about religious schools.

Although she made the joke on stage in April, it went viral on social media after being re-posted by a pro-government daily last week.

Top members of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamic-rooted party then voiced moral outrage, turning her joke into another divisive issue roiling the polarized country 10 months before Turks go to the polls.

Gülşen had quipped that her guitarist’s “perversion” was rooted in his upbringing in an imam-hatip school, which specializes in religious education combined with a modern curriculum.

Erdoğan himself went to such a school.

Following the decision last week to jail the singer, her lawyer immediately appealed.

A court on Monday ruled that Gülşen should be placed under house arrest pending trial, which could see Gülşen jailed for up to three years.

“We are very happy about the decision,” Gülşen’s lawyer Emek Emre said outside the courtroom, while adding that placing his client under house arrest was “incompatible with the law.”

Most imam-hatip schools were closed after the 1997 ousting of an Islamic-rooted government by the military.

Their number began to grow when Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002.

Turkey is a predominantly Muslim but officially secular state.

Erdoğan has often said his goal was to raise “pious generations.”

This creates enormous tensions with more liberal Turks, who fear that Erdoğan’s rule is undermining the republic’s secular foundations.

Gülşen said she was sorry that her joke was being used to stir up further divisions.

“I am sorry that my words gave fodder to malicious people who aim to polarize our country,” she said on her social media accounts before being put behind bars.

Gülşen emerged in the 1990s, with her first video clip featuring her in pajamas.

But her songs and videos became more risque and overtly sexual with time.

This year, she dedicated her Elle Style “icon of the year” award to the LGBTQ movement.

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