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Tags: turkey | islam | insult | sentenced

Turkish Pianist Sentenced for Insulting Islam on Twitter

Monday, 15 April 2013 05:56 AM EDT

ANKARA, Turkey — A Turkish court convicted Fazil Say, the Turkish classical pianist and composer, on charges of inciting hatred and insulting Islam on Twitter.

The Istanbul 19th criminal court sentenced Say, one of Turkey’s most internationally renowned artists, to 10 months in prison Monday, according to his lawyer, Meltem Akyol. Say, 43, has played piano with the New York Philharmonic and Berlin Symphony orchestras.

The court said Say would be allowed to go free, and would be subject to the prison time should he commit a similar crime within five years, Akyol said.

The conviction is “a serious threat for all and pressure on free speech,” Akyol said by telephone today. “We all were expecting justice” and “I am very sorry for the country.” She said Say shared the same views.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party have been criticized by the European Union, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Reporters Without Borders for restricting free speech. Amnesty International on March 27 issued a report saying that “the right to freedom of speech is under attack in Turkey” and calling it one of the country’s “most entrenched human rights problems.”

Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk was put on trial for commenting about the mass killings of Armenians by Turks in 1915, under a law that made it a crime to insult the Turkish identity. The government softened that legislation in an amendment in 2008, a year after a gunman shot dead ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink for his comments about the killings.

Chivas Regal

Say had demanded his acquittal in the opening hearing on Oct. 18., denying allegations that he insulted Islamic religious values.

The case against him was based on about half a dozen tweets and retweets mentioned in the indictment, including one mentioning a Turkish liquor and whiskey: “What if there is raki in paradise but not in hell, while there is Chivas Regal in hell and not in paradise? What will happen then? This is the most important question!”

Say’s comments in April 2012 drew criticism from some in predominantly Muslim Turkey, as alcohol is banned by Islam. Say said he was only criticizing the exploitation of religion for profit and that he was quoting an 11th century Iranian poet, Omar Khayyam.

Another tweet makes fun of a muezzin for taking only 22 seconds to sing the call to prayer, asking if he has a mistress or some raki waiting for him to get back to. Another suggests that whenever people are notably greedy or thieves or otherwise bad, they turn out to be “exceedingly” pious.

‘Holy Values’

“Those who say that Fazil Say’s posts should be considered within the scope of freedom of thought appear not to be completely aware of what Fazil Say actually wrote,” Emre Bukagili, a plaintiff in the case, said in an e-mailed statement today. “Fazil Say did not repeat the words of a poet, but attacked religion and the holy values of religion.”

Bukagili said the sentence could be removed on evidence that Say suffered from autism.

“As a result of my inquiries, I found out that there are suspicions that Fazil Say suffers from autism,” he said. “If these suspicions have any bias, of course, as a conscientious person, I would not seek any punishment against him, as he suffers from a significant disorder.”

© Copyright 2022 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

A Turkish court convicted Fazil Say, the Turkish classical pianist and composer, on charges of inciting hatred and insulting Islam on Twitter.
Monday, 15 April 2013 05:56 AM
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