Popular Turkish rapper Ezhel arrested over lyrics 'promoting drug use'

Rapper has millions of views on YouTube and is scheduled to perform with US artist Wiz Khalifa in July

Roisin O'Connor
Music Correspondent
Friday 25 May 2018 14:34 BST
Turkish rapper Ezhel performs live at the Volkswagen Arena

Popular Turkish rapper Ezhel has been arrested in Istanbul on charges of "encouraging drug use" by anti-narcotics police, according to local media reports.

The 28-year-old, whose real name is Ömer Sercan İpekçioğlu, was detained on 24 May and referred to a court after undergoing a health check in hospital.

The hashtag #FreeEzhel in support of the artist, whose videos have racked up millions of views online, was among the most-shared in Turkey on Twitter on the night of his arrest - including by famous venue Babylon - known as the Turkish equivalent to The Roundhouse in London.

Ezhel - one of the most famous rappers in Turkey - released his debut album Müptezhel in 2017, impressing fans and critics with a genre he defines as "Anatolian Urban Core/hip hop/Reggae-Dub/trap". The video for his song “Şehrimin Tadı” (Taste of my City) received 31 million views on YouTube.

As well as rapping and singing, he plays the guitar, piano, darbuka, ney and tambourine. He is scheduled to perform with US rapper Wiz Khalifa on 4 July, and at Sziget Festival in Hungary in August. On 20 May he performed his first ever UK show, at the Jazz Cafe in London.

Many social media users in Turkey have expressed outrage and confusion over the arrest, questioning why police targeted and jailed a rapper for his lyrics, rather than investigate serious crimes.

A member of an Istanbul-based band, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Independent: "It's so sad to see this is really happening in Turkey. Sercan is a really talented musician and definitely doesn't deserve to be in jail, he inspires people in a good way - not in a bad way. Let's support art and not punish the people creating it."

Ezhel's manager Riza Okcu added: "FreeEzhel, writing a song cannot be a crime - the government should arrest the real criminals. Rap music tells the truth about what happens in the streets."

Turkish law can punish "encouragement of drug use" with a sentence of 5-10 years in prison, according to Bianet.

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