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.
The arrests came after top Turkish officials condemned the poster, displayed at an exhibition in Turkey’s prestigious Bogazici University.
For weeks, students and faculty have been protesting over the Turkish president’s appointment of a new rector with 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 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’s 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.
The rector Melih Bulu 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 over the new rector and acknowledged that Muslim students had issues with the posters.
“All artwork is open for criticism. But putting an artwork on trial is simply a restriction of the freedom of expression,” its statement read.
The group emphasised the value of pluralism in the university and said hate speech against LGBTIs was unacceptable.
The university’s LGBTI group tweeted that it stood with its friends and said it rejects the new rector “who targeted his own students”.