Page last updated at 12:57 GMT, Wednesday, 24 September 2008 13:57 UK

Turkish singer defiant in court

Bulent Ersoy arrives at a court house in Istanbul on 24 September 2008
Bulent Ersoy said she had the right to express her thoughts freely

A popular Turkish singer has defended public statements that Turkey's long conflict with Kurdish rebels needs a solution - not more deaths.

Bulent Ersoy made her comments at a court hearing in Istanbul, after being charged with attempting to turn the public against military service.

The transsexual singer also suggested that if she had a son she would not send him to fight.

If found guilty, she faces up to four-and-a-half years in prison.

Ms Ersoy made her comments about Turkey's powerful military on television last February.

The Turkish army was conducting a major operation against the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in northern Iraq at the time.

Some 40,000 people have died since the conflict with the PKK began in 1984.

Defiant stance

Ms Ersoy arrived at court in her usual, flamboyant style - dressed in white flowing linen, golden gem-studded sandals and matching accessories, says the BBC's Sarah Rainsford, who was present at the trial.

Even if they hang me, I'll keep talking
Bulent Ersoy

As photographers surrounded her, a few supporters held up signs reading Long live the Diva, our correspondent says.

The prosecutor accuses Bulent Ersoy of making dangerous propaganda for the PKK, describing military service as the "sacred duty" of every Turk.

But Ms Ersoy told the judge she had committed no crime.

The singer said she stood by her words and her right to express her thoughts freely - as a loyal citizen of her country.

"Even if they hang me, I'll keep talking," she said.

It was a defiant stance, but this case has exposed the limits on free speech in Turkey once again - a country whose military remains extremely powerful, its reputation and actions protected from criticism by law, our correspondent says.

Ms Ersoy did not show up in court when the trial opened in June, saying she had to attend a concert.

'Risky business'

Ms Ersoy is Turkey's best known diva, adored across the country, our correspondent says.

She was already one of the country's most popular male singers when in 1981 she underwent a sex change operation.

But questioning the Turkish military can be a risky business, our correspondent says.

Article 318 of the penal code - dissuading people from military service - is frequently used by the military against its critics.

Meanwhile critics say a separate article, making it a crime to insult the Turkish nation and its institutions, is used to stifle free speech.

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