Clamp down on freedom of expression in Turkey expands to rappers

21 June 2018
Turkish anti-narcotics police detained rappers Ezhel, Khontkar and Young Bego in late May 2018, accusing them of promoting drug use via their lyrics.
Photo: Ezhel / Ezhel Facebook (left); Khontkar / Khontkar Facebook (bottom right); Young Bego / Young Bego Instagram (top right)


Turkish anti-narcotics police detained rappers Ezhel (real name Ömer Sercan İpekçioğlu), Khontkar (real name of Onur Dinç) and Young Bego within days of each other in late May 2018, accusing them of promoting drug use through their lyrics, reported The Independent and NTV.

According to Turkish law, the artists could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Ezhel, one of Turkey’s most popular and influential rappers whose lyrics are often about the ghettos of his native city of Ankara, was indicted on charges of “inciting and encouraging drug use” through his lyrics by the 44th Criminal Court of First Instance on 5 June 2018, reported Hürriyet Daily News.

Freemuse calls for the detained rappers to be released and for their charges to be dropped.

“Turkish authorities continue to clamp down on the freedom of expression of its citizens, expanding their influence to rappers Ezhel, Khontkar and Young Bego. According to human rights standards Turkey has signed on to, freedom of expression is an inalienable right they are duty bound to protect for these rappers and all people in Turkey, even if the subject matter they choose to express is not deemed favourable,” Freemuse Executive Director Dr Srirak Plipat said. 

The rapper was investigated over two songs that featured lyrics about the use of marijuana, as well as a social media post, which has since been deleted, of the rapper holding a cannabis plant leaf, according to Amnesty International.

Notably, the 28-year-old rapper was acquitted on 19 June by a court in Istanbul of the charge held against him due to the lack of intent to commit a crime, reported Billboard. The news comes four weeks after his initial detainment on 24 May.

Rappers Khontkar and Young Bego still face the charges set against them by the anti-narcotics police in Izmir. Due to the content of their lyrics, both rappers had their homes searched on 30 May, in which cannabis and drug grinders were found on the premises.

The artists are currently awaiting trial over their lyrical content, explained NTV and Milliyet. It remains unclear whether charges will be applied to drug and drug-related paraphernalia possession.

The arrests follow a controversy that arose in Turkey earlier this year, in which it was exposed that state broadcaster Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) banned 208 songs from airing on radio and television over the past two years. The TRT stated the bans were due to Law 6112 forbidding the broadcast of content that encourages “the use of addictive substances like alcohol, tobacco and narcotics” or conveys ‘terrorist propaganda’, reported Hürriyet Daily News.

Fans of all three of the artists have flooded social media with posts under the hashtags #FreeEzhel #FreeKhontkar and #FreeYoungBego in order to show their support for the rappers, as well as demand that the remaining charges be dropped.

Read more about Turkey’s clamp down on artistic freedom in Freemuse’s State of Artistic Freedom 2018 report here

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