Turkey frees Syrian singer Omar Souleyman but charges are still possible

Singer detained for allegedly promoting terrorism and must now wait on prosecutor's decision

Renowned Syrian singer Omar Souleyman was released on Friday after being detained for allegedly promoting terrorism, his lawyer said.

Souleyman, whose mix of folk and electronic music accompanied by Arabic and Kurdish lyrics have won him a cult following around the world, was detained on Wednesday at his home in Sanliurfa, southern Turkey.

His lawyer, Resit Tuna, said Souleyman was released by a court on Friday morning and is now at home. “The prosecution will decide whether to prosecute Omar Souleyman,” he said. “They won’t make that decision right away.

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For now, Mr Souleyman is free but the state will decide what will happen in the future
Resit Tuna, lawyer

“For now, Mr Souleyman is free but the state will decide what will happen in the future.”

Mr Tuna said that police had initially sought to deport Souleyman after questioning him over a claim that he advocated terrorism. “They gave that up now and he’s free and at home, there’s no urgent situation,” the lawyer said.

Turkish media previously reported that Souleyman, 55, was arrested on suspicion of having links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged a 37-year conflict in Turkey and is considered a terrorist organisation by Ankara and most western states.

After his release, the Birgun newspaper reported that his arrest related to alleged remarks made in Germany in which Souleyman praised jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Souleyman’s manager and producer, Mina Tosti, told The National earlier that such a claim could have been made by a jealous rival.

“He has many enemies and people who envy him who would do this,” she said. “This is probably a similar scenario now – that someone has made a tip-off.”

Souleyman, a former wedding singer from Hassakeh, a Kurdish-majority region of north-east Syria, has lived in Turkey since the Syrian civil war began 10 years ago.

He was arrested at his home in Karakopru, a district to the north-west of Sanliurfa city, which lies close to the Syrian border.

With his trademark red and white kaffiyeh and sunglasses, Souleyman broke on to the international scene in 2011 and has since appeared at festivals around the world, including Glastonbury in the UK and the Nobel Peace Prize concert in Norway.

He has collaborated with artists including Bjork, Four Tet and Blur’s Damon Albarn while his YouTube videos have received tens of millions of views. He is believed to have recorded more than 500 albums.

An Arab and a Sunni Muslim, Souleyman has previously spoken out on behalf of all Syrians, regardless of ethnicity or religion.

Turkish media suggested he was arrested over ties to the PKK or its Syrian offshoot, known as the YPG.

Although the YPG is not labelled a terrorist organisation by the West, Turkey considers it to be inextricably linked to the PKK.

Beginning in 2016, Ankara has launched three military campaigns in northern Syria against the YPG, while also fighting the PKK in Turkey and northern Iraq.

In recent years, tens of thousands of people have been detained on terrorism charges in Turkey, including members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, which is Turkey’s third-largest political party. It evolved out of the Kurdish movement and has been accused of links to the PKK – a charge it denies.

Updated: November 20th 2021, 7:13 AM
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