Turkish pianist on trial for Islam insult

2012-10-18 15:58

Istanbul — A top Turkish pianist and composer appeared in court on Thursday to defend himself against charges of offending Muslims and insulting Islam in comments he made on Twitter.

Fazil Say, who has played with the New York Philharmonic, the Berlin Symphony Orchestra and others, is on trial for sending tweets that included one in April that joked about a call to prayer that lasted only 22 seconds.

Say tweeted: "Why such haste? Have you got a mistress waiting or a raki on the table?" Raki is a traditional alcoholic drink made with aniseed. Islam forbids alcohol and many Islamists consider the remarks unacceptable.

Prosecutors in June charged Say with inciting hatred and public enmity, and with insulting "religious values". He faces a maximum 18 months prison term, although any sentence is likely to be suspended.

Say, who has served as a cultural ambassador for the European Union, rejected the charges and demanded his acquittal, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency.

The trial was adjourned until 18 February and the musician was granted the right not to appear at subsequent court hearings due to his concert schedules.

'Free art, Free world'

The prosecution has caused anger among intellectuals in Turkey and escalated concerns over freedom of expression in the country.

Hundreds of his fans, supporters and human rights activists went to the courthouse in Istanbul in a show of solidarity, holding up signs that read: "Fazil Say is not alone" and "Free Art, Free World".

Say, aged 42, is a strong critic of the Islamic-rooted government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a devout Muslim who has preached conservative values, alarming some secular Turks who fear the government plans to make religion part of their lifestyle.

Some have drawn parallels between Say's case and that of the Russian band Pussy Riot who staged an impromptu punk performance at Moscow's main cathedral in February in protest against President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church hierarchy. The three women were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, but they insist that their protest was political in nature and not an attack on religion.

Turkey has a history of prosecuting its artists and writers, and the European Union has long encouraged the nation to improve freedom of speech if it wants to become a member of the bloc one day.

Restrictions of freedoms

In a report on Turkey's progress toward membership issued last week, the EU criticised Turkey for "recurring infringements of the right to liberty and security and to a fair trial, as well as of the freedom of expression".

It said restrictions on media freedoms and an increasing number of court cases against writers and journalists remained "serious issues".

Turkey's Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk has been prosecuted for his comments about the mass killings of Armenians under a law that made it a crime to insult the Turkish identity before the government eased that law in an amendment in 2008.

In 2007, ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who received death threats because of his comments about the killings of Armenians by Turks in 1915, was shot dead outside his office in Istanbul.

On Thursday, Egemen Bagis, the minister in charge of relations with the EU, suggested the case against Say should be dismissed saying the court should regard Say's tweets as being within "his right to babble". However, he criticised the pianist for "insulting people's faith and values".

The charges against Say also cite other tweets he sent, including one — based on a verse attributed to famous medieval poet and wine-lover Omar Khayyam — which questioned whether heaven was a tavern or a brothel, because of the promises that wine will flow and each believer will be greeted by virgins.

Pressing on

Say has since closed his Twitter account and has said he plans to leave Turkey for Japan. His lawyer said Say has received some death threats.

The musician, known for his eccentricities on stage, has pressed ahead with concerts and recitals in Turkey despite his legal woes.

Last month, he played to a packed auditorium in Ankara where people without tickets were allowed to sit on the steps of the aisles, and received a standing ovation for the recital that included his own compositions influenced by a traditional Turkish string instrument as well as a jazzed-up rendition of Mozart.

  • kyle.naidoo.5011 - 2012-10-18 16:58

    THe strange thing is that , people walk on egg shells when it comes ti islam , but when muslims propogate violence against others of non islamic decent , then all is well. utter rubbish live and let live

      ft.burhaak - 2012-10-18 18:28

      Delusionbuster,do you think its because drone attacks,cluster bombs,hellfire missiles foreign occupation aggression,violation of sovereign land etc. is not happening in England,Norway,Sweden,USA,France and Italy??pls dont be a self rightous hypocrite.

      ft.burhaak - 2012-10-18 18:50

      Obviously if the Arabs behaved like the West,it would be the other way around.

      tsotsibaby - 2012-10-18 19:02

      You mean if they were not terrorists? I still doubt that Shiiiit.... #Power to the people

  • neville.watson.94 - 2012-10-18 17:02

    What is wrong with this barbaric people they are so proud of their religion but wherever they are there is WAR

  • maven.punk.5 - 2012-10-18 17:07

    Islam can silence my mouth, but not my mind. Voetsek.

  • richard.bosmano - 2012-10-18 17:13

    Read the koran , where can i find a copy of Hitlers book ,mein kampf. I'm sure it will be kindergarden stuff in comparison

  • ft.burhaak - 2012-10-18 18:43

    The hypocricy is mind boggling.Muslims are critized for protecting their RELIGION,and then labelled for it.When its your own culture that is intolerant towards critism,such as hunting down Julian Assange,and dare you critisize some western governments and institutions.Pots calling the kettle black!

      ft.burhaak - 2012-10-18 18:57

      The fact is that 'freedom of expression' is only hailed or condemn on the basis of how it serves those who comtrol mass opinion.

      gert.swart.393 - 2012-10-18 20:59

      @ft.burhaak: You confuse us Africans with Americans! We believe in freedom. Also freedom from delusional illiterates!

  • scholesss - 2012-10-18 19:41

    when islams insult other religions why dont they get tried,

  • martin.prinsloo.37 - 2012-10-18 21:06

    Turkey is not a secular country. Maybe on paper, but not in reality. Here is another case not mentioned above: Hakan Tastan and Turan Topal are two Turkish converts from Islam to Christianity who went on trial on November 23, 2006, several days before a visit to Turkey by Pope Benedict XVI on charges of "allegedly insulting 'Turkishness' and inciting religious hatred against Islam". Turan Topal converted to Christianity in 1989 whereas Hakan Tastan converted in 1994. The men were accused of insulting Turkish heritage and inciting hate against Muslims while allegedly trying to convert other Turks to Christianity. The men were charged under Turkey's Article 301, which has been used to bring charges against dozens of Turkish intellectuals. According to the written charges, the three plaintiffs, identified as Fatih Kose, 23, Alper, 16, and Oguz, 17, claimed the two Christians had called Islam a "primitive and fabricated religion" and had described Turks as a "cursed people." They also accused the defendants of opposing the Turkish military, encouraging sexual misconduct, procuring funds from abroad to entice young people in Silivri to become Christians and secretly compiling data on private citizens for a local Bible correspondence course. Continued below

      martin.prinsloo.37 - 2012-10-18 21:07

      One paper, Zaman, even claimed that the two Christians were connected to Hakan Ekinci, the man who on October 3 hijacked a Turkish Airlines plane to Italy where he claimed to be Christian and a conscientious objector, and had appealed to Pope Benedict XVI for asylum. The spokesman for the Alliance of Protestant Churches in Turkey, Isa Karatas, says that there is no evidence against the men. He claims that charges filed against them are based only on verbal allegations without any proof. The men have had several hearings since November, 2006.

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