ISTANBUL -- Two students have been arrested in Turkey on charges of inciting hatred and insulting religious values for a poster depicting Islam’s most sacred site with LGBT flags.
Their arrest late Saturday came after top Turkish officials slammed the poster, displayed at an exhibition in Turkey’s most prestigious Bogazici University. For weeks, students and faculty have been protesting the Turkish president’s appointment of a new rector who has links to his ruling party and clashes have broken out with police.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu tweeted that “LGBT perverts” had been detained for “disrespecting the Great Kaaba.” Top government officials from Turkey’s conservative, Islamic-based ruling party condemned the poster. The spokesman for the staunchly secular, main opposition party also slammed the artwork as a provocation, calling it an attack on holy values.
Their statements came after the university’s Islamic research club slammed the poster on social media, prompting people to take to Twitter with hashtags denouncing the poster, LGBTs and the university. The country’s director of religious affairs, who previously created a stir by saying homosexuality brings disease and was defended by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he came under criticism, said he would take legal action.
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.
Istanbul governor's office said five people were initially detained and police were seeking two more suspects. One person was released, two put under house arrest and two were jailed pending trial.
Police searched the fine arts and LGBTI+ student clubs at the university. The statement said police found books on an outlawed Kurdish group and rainbow flags.
Melih Bulu, the rector under protest, tweeted that an attack on Islamic values was unacceptable and had no place in the university’s values.
Student group Bogazici Solidarity said the exhibition of more than 300 artworks was partly to protest the new rector and acknowledged that Muslim students had issues with the poster.
“All artwork is open for criticism. But putting art on trial is simply a restriction of the freedom of expression,” their statement read. The group emphasized the value of pluralism in the university and said hate speech based on sexual orientation and gender identity was unacceptable.
The university’s LGBTI+ group tweeted they stood with their friends and said they reject the new rector “who targeted his own students.”