The Turkish pop star Gulsen was arrested on Thursday after an Istanbul prosecutor opened an investigation into charges of “inciting people to hatred and hostility” after a remark she made on stage about religious schools, local media have reported.
Singer Gulsen Bayraktar Colakoglu – a 46-year-old woman known by her first name – was detained at home in Istanbul and taken to court.
A judge then remanded her in jail pending an investigation into remarks she made at a concert in April about Imam Hatip religious schools.
A clip of the comments went viral and created outrage among senior members of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s conservative AK Party this week.
Gulsen is a household name in Turkey and her case has turned into headline news in the highly polarised country.
The controversial comment saw Gulsen remark to an unknown person on stage, in apparent jest, that his “perversion” was caused by his upbringing in an Imam Hatip school.
“Targeting a fraction of society with the allegations of ‘perversion’ and trying to divide Turkey is a crime of hatred and disgrace of humanity,” AK Party spokesman Omer Celik said.
Gulsen issued an apology on social media prior to her arrest.
“A joke I shared with my colleagues with whom I have worked for many years … was featured and published by those who aim to polarise society,” she said.
“I am sorry that my words gave material to malicious people who aim to polarise our country.”
Gulsen’s lawyer Emek Emre promised to appeal the star’s arrest and seek her immediate release.
“Our client has not committed any crime,” he told reporters.
Erdogan and his ruling AK Party will need a strong turnout from their core of socially conservative voters to reverse a slide in the polls ahead of a general election next June.
The state-run Diyanet, or Religious Affairs Directorate, has seen its budget and public influence grow in recent years, prompting charges that Erdogan is using religion to boost his ratings ahead of tight elections set for next year.
Erdogan’s supporters say the moves are a reversal of anti-religious diktats issued by the AK Party’s fiercely secular predecessors in government.
Critics say Erdogan has bent the courts to his will to crack down on dissent and free expression, charges the government denies.
The Turkish opposition has seized upon Gulsen’s case to boost their support.
CHP party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu called on Thursday for Turkey’s youth to come out and vote next year to save artists such as Gulsen from being jailed.
“I am calling out to the youth – these unjust rulings will come to an end,” Kilicdaroglu said in a social media post.
“They are trying to rule this country by provoking and dividing you.”
Late-night news of Gulsen’s arrest prompted some Fenerbahce football fans to start singing one of her songs at a Europa League match in Istanbul against Austria Vienna.
Social media posts showed a section of the packed stadium joining in the song in solidarity with the jailed star.