An Istanbul court acquitted Tuesday 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.
In Turkey, the encouragement of drug use is punishable by law, as is the possession and sale of narcotics.
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, the Ankara-born songwriter defended his lyrics, arguing they were within the bounds of "literary" and "artistic" creation and also emphasized 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 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.
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.
Dozens of his fans flooded the court house ahead of the trial, according to CNN Turk. The hashtag #FreeEzhel was one of the top trending topics on Turkish Twitter, while some 20,000 Turks took part in Amnesty's campaign for the release of the singer.