By Middle East Affairs
Turkish artist Ezhel was absolved of criminal charges leading to 10 years in prison on Tuesday during his first trial in Istanbul.
The artist’s given name is Sercan Ipekcioglu, but goes by the stage name of Ezhel was arrested four weeks ago on charges that a line from a song referenced marijuana and encouraged drug use, which is illegal in Turkey.
Ezhel denied the charges and after thirty minutes in court, the judge released him and granted his freedom.
This came after dozens of fans and activists showed up to support the artists in front of the courtroom, and the hashtag #FreeEzhel become one of the most popular trending topics in Turkey on Twitter.
Ömer Sercan Ipekcioglu is a well-known and popular musician in Turkey, his videos actively reach more than 30 millions of views on Youtube.
Andrew Gardner of Amnesty International said that more than 20,000 people had originally signed their petition calling for Ezhel’s release during his initial arrest.
Amnesty International leads many human rights campaigns in Turkey after the government began arresting journalists, professors, lawyers, and activists who exercised their right of self-expression, which the state interprets as “anti-Turkishness”.
Soon after his arrest in May the hashtag #FreeEzhel inspired thousands of posts on his behalf calling for his release and freedom for music. The hashtag quickly became the most popular in Turkey, with a petition demanding his freedom reaching almost 50,000 signatures early on Friday. The petition reads that supporters of Ezhel “will not bow to the injustice of those who wish to restrict the freedom of thought through unjust laws and systems.”
Some said that Ezhel is a poet and a voice for many people, while others called on the injustice of his arrest whilst actual criminals like rapists, child-abusers, and corruption thieves go unarrested in Turkey.
Ezhel released his debut album “Müptezhel” in 2017, to the surprise of many who found his genre-blending sound unique. He has brought attention to Ankara’s urban community and regularly pays tribute to his hometown. His music video for “Şehrimin Tadı” (Taste of my City) received 31 million views on YouTube.
This year, opponents of President Erdogan were furious when they found out that more than 208 songs had been banned on state-sponsored media outlet TRT over the past two years. The media outlet released a statement that said they were not banning artists, but respecting the law which prohibits the broadcast of content encouraging people to smoke, drink or carries “terrorist propaganda”.
Earlier this year in March, the Turkish singer and actress Zuhal Olcay was arrested and is serving out a ten-month sentence in prison for insulting the president, the prosecutor wanted to imprison Olcay for four years in prison.
After an investigation of the footage of her concert, Olcay is seen making a hand gesture, which she says was directed towards an audience member after they had a negative interaction, the Istanbul Prosecutor’s Office claims it was towards President Erdogan.
The lyrics in her song, “Boş Vermişim Dünyayı” (I Let Go of the World), which she changed for her onstage performance to say, “Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, it’s all empty, it’s all a lie. Life will end one day and you’ll say ‘I had a dream” were used as evidence against her in the 10-month sentence.
The opposition of the country’s ruling party is growing more increasingly worried at the Turkish’s president authoritarian ruling especially since the June 24 elections will switch the government to an executive presidency, eliminating the position of many ministers and granting absolute ruling rights to President Erdogan.
The Turkish president began his political career as Mayor of Istanbul in 1994, he served as Prime Minister in 2003, a position that previously held as much power as the presidency then ran as president in 2014.