Turkey arrests five over Mecca poster with LGBT flags

Turkey arrests five students over Mecca poster with LGBT flags
2 min read
30 January, 2021
The chief adviser to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ibrahim Kalin, said nothing could defend the artwork, and that those responsible would receive "the punishment it deserves before the law".
Turkish authorities arrest five students enrolled at the country's top university over their artwork [Twitter/TurkishCK]
Turkish authorities arrested five students enrolled at the country's top university on Saturday over artwork that depicted LGBT symbols and a holy Islamic site.

Istanbul's Governor Office brandished the image - which depicted the Great Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, alongside a series of LGBT flags - as an "ugly attack" which "mocked religious beliefs".

The chief adviser to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ibrahim Kalin, said the artwork could not be defended, and that those responsible would receive "the punishment it deserves before the law".

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu tweeted that "LGBT perverts" had been detained for "disrespecting the Great Kaaba".

The Kaaba in Mecca is the holiest site in Islam with believers across the world praying in its direction.

The poster placed a mythical creature of half-woman and half-snake found in Middle Eastern folklore on the site of worship along with the flags of LGBT, lesbian, trans and asexual people. The text below said the artwork was a critique of traditional gender roles.

Of the five arrested, one was released, two put under house arrest and two were jailed pending trial, Istanbul's governor office, adding that the police were seeking two more suspects. 

Students at Turkey's prestigious Bogazici University in Istanbul began protesting on January 4 the appointment of a new pro-government rector.

To join this movement, a collective calling itself BOUN Sanat Direnişi (Boğaziçi Art Resistance) set up an open-air gallery where they displayed painting, sculptures, illustrations, and live performances, tackling controversial issues such as gender equality in what is overall a majority conservative country.

"At a time when repression makes street protests nearly impossible in Turkey, it is heartening to see students of Istanbul's prestigious public university Boğaziçi finding creative ways to further their cause while creating beauty in the process," wrote Kenan Sharpe, a Turkish journalist and scholar who teaches at Bogazici University, about the exhibition.

"Unfortunately, those who are anxious to crush dissent often turn against art as well."

The arrests sparked outrage online, with many denouncing the government’s comments as hate speech and demanding the release of the four students.

Homosexuality remains legal in Turkey, but backlash towards the LGBT community has worsened in recent years, due to a rise in conservatism spear-headed by government officials. An annual Pride march in Istanbul has been banned since 2014.

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