Turkish Rapper Ezhel On Trial for Encouraging Drug Use

By Paul Fuhr 07/19/18

Prosecutors cite the rapper's lyrics as dangerous examples for impressionable Turkish youths.

Turkish Rapper Ezhel

Turkish rapper Ezhel faces up to 10 years in prison for “encouraging drug use in his songs,” according to the Hürriyet Daily News. It’s also the second time this year that the 28-year-old rapper has been charged with promoting drugs in his lyrics by anti-narcotics police.

In recent years, Ezhel (born Ömer Sercan İpekçioğlu) has found both significant critical and commercial success. Following the release of his acclaimed 2017 album Müptezhel, Ezhel has made several high-profile live performances (including one with U.S. rapper Wiz Khalifa), not to mention garnering millions of views on his official YouTube channel.

Unfortunately, it seems as if Ezhel’s success has put a target on his back when it comes to Turkish authorities, who are taking aim at the pro-drug messages he purportedly layers into his music. “Both [his] lyrics and the narrative of the songs as a whole” promote drug use, the latest indictment argues.

The Istanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office leveled its newest charges against Ezhel on July 11, less than a month after the rapper was last acquitted. Prosecutors routinely cite his Ezhel’s lyrics (“The brighter the lights, under the influence of marijuana, taking puffs”) as well as photos shared on Twitter (one in particular shows him with “the outlawed cannabis sativa plant”) as dangerous examples for impressionable Turkish youths.

In his previous arrest, Ezhel defended himself by claiming his lyrics were nothing more than rhymes and that “he was not aware that he committed a crime with pictures and lyrics,” the Daily News noted.

Ezhel’s latest arrest was met with an almost immediate public outcry in Turkey, with the hashtag “#FreeEzhel” immediately trending on Twitter and countless others expressing their support on social media.

As prosecutors decried the rapper’s promotion of drug use via social media channels, anti-narcotics officers also paid a visit to Ezhel’s home, searching for illegal substances. “No element of a crime was found,” the Daily News reported, though THC metabolite (the active substance in cannabis) was, however, found in the rapper’s blood sample.

Regardless, many supporters and fellow Turkish musicians believe his arrests are attempts to “censor his critical voice.”

A member of an Istanbul-based music group told the UK’s Independent that the arrests say less about Ezhel’s music than it does continued tensions between free speech and censorship in their country.

“It’s so sad to see this is really happening in Turkey,” the anonymous musician said. “[Ezhel] 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 applauded the “#FreeEzhel” movement and echoed sentiments that “writing a song cannot be a crime” in Turkey. “The government should arrest the real criminals,” Okcu added, saying that “rap music tells the truth about what happens in the streets.”

Unfortunately, no matter what support Ezhel receives from the public, Turkish law carries a sentence of five to ten years in prison for “encouragement of drug use.”

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Paul Fuhr lives in Columbus, Ohio with his family and two cats, Vesper and Dr. No. He's written for AfterParty MagazineThe Literary Review and The Live Oak Review, among others. He's also the host of "Drop the Needle," a podcast about music and addiction recovery. More at paulfuhr.com. You can also find Paul on Linkedin and Twitter.