Turkish Pianist Convicted Of Blasphemy
A Turkish court has convicted pianist and composer Fazil Say of blasphemy and inciting hatred over a series of comments he made on Twitter last year.
The musician was given a suspended 10-month jail term. His lawyer, Meltem Akyol, said his client would have to serve the term if he committed a similar offence within the next five years.
Say, who was not present at the hearing, issued a statement calling the verdict “a sad one for Turkey”. He denied the charges, saying they were politically motivated.
The 43-year-old went on trial in October accused of denigrating Islam in a series of tweets earlier last year. In one message he retweeted a verse from a poem by Omar Khayyám in which the 11th-century Persian poet attacks pious hypocrisy: “You say rivers of wine flow in heaven, is heaven a tavern to you? You say two huris [companions] await each believer there, is heaven a brothel to you?” In other tweets, he made fun of a muezzin (a caller to prayer) and certain religious practices.
Artists and intellectuals have repeatedly been targeted in Turkey for voicing their opinions, and Say’s case has renewed concerns about the Turkish government’s stance towards freedom of expression. The composer has been a vocal critic of the ruling AK party and Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan and his government have been accused of wanting to dismantle Turkish secularism and of curbing freedom of expression. In a report published at the end of last month, Amnesty International called the lack of freedom of speech in Turkey one of the country’s “most entrenched human rights problems”.
The first government reaction after the court ruling came from Ömer Çelik, minister for culture and tourism. “I would not wish anyone to be put on trial for words that have been expressed. This is especially true of artists and cultural figures”, he said speaking at the London Book Fair, but stressed that there was “a court decision”.
Khayyám became a trending topic on Twitter in Turkey after the verdict, with many re-posting the contentious verses.
In 1998, Erdogan himself was jailed for “inciting religious hatred” after reciting a poem attributed to the Ottoman writer Ziya Gökalp.