Turkish rapper Ezhel freed after drugs charge acquittal

Popular Turkish rapper "Ezhel" was hugged by loved ones after a court freed him from charges of encouraging drug on the first day of a trial that sparked widespread alarm

Istanbul (AFP) – An Istanbul court on Tuesday acquitted and freed a popular Turkish rapper who faced up to 10 years in jail on charges of encouraging drug use, on the first day of a trial that had sparked widespread alarm.

Ezhel, whose real name is Omer Sercan Ipekcioglu, walked free from prison after spending  three weeks behind bars on what supporters said were absurd charges.

He was accused of inciting cannabis use through social media postings as well as song lyrics.

He was arrested late last month in Istanbul by anti-narcotics police and his case was seen by rights groups as an example of declining freedom of expression under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The judge ruled that Ezhel had not committed any crime “intentionally” and ordered him to be acquitted and released immediately, according to the court report obtained by AFP through his lawyer Fuat Ekin.

Reports said that he was acquitted within just nine minutes of the trial opening. The court documents gave his age as 26 although earlier reports said he was 28.

Ezhel was hugged by loved ones, including his brother and mother, in emotional scenes after walking free from jail in Istanbul, an AFP photographer said.  

In the brief hearing, he was asked about lyrics that evoked drug use and about photos published on social media that showed him with cannabis leaves.

According to the court documents, he defended his lyrics, arguing they were within the bounds of “literary” and “artistic” creation and also emphasised the negative side of drug use.

He added he had found cannabis plants by chance in Ankara and had shared a picture of them only as a “joke”.

The Ankara-born songwriter caught public attention with the release of his debut album “Muptezhel” last year. His music carries the influence of stars like Eminem and 50 Cent. 

His songs have been viewed millions of times online.