Fazil Say: Tweeting Turkish pianist given suspended sentence for blasphemy

Turkish classical pianist Fazil Say performs during a concert in Ankara October 14, 2010. Credit: Reuters
Turkish classical pianist Fazil Say performs in Ankara in 2010.
Credit: Reuters

A world-renowned concert pianist was given a suspended jail sentence in Turkey on Monday for insulting religious values on Twitter, a case which has become a cause celebre for Turks alarmed about creeping Islamic conservatism.

Fazil Say, also a leading composer, went on trial in October for blasphemy — a crime that can carry an 18-month sentence — for a series of tweets including one citing a thousand-year-old poem.

That message, in April last year, retweeted a verse in which 11th-century Persian poet Omar Khayyam mocks pious hypocrisy. It is in the form of questions to believers: “You say rivers of wine flow in heaven, is heaven a tavern to you? You say two houris await each believer there, is heaven a brothel to you?”

In another tweet, Say poked fun at a muezzin, someone who makes the Muslim call to prayer. “The muezzin finished the evening prayers in 22 seconds … Why are you in such hurry? A lover? A raki table?” he asked, referring to the aniseed-flavored spirit popular in Turkey.

The series of more than half a dozen tweets led prosecutors to accuse the 43-year old pianist of “explicitly insulting religious values.”

An Istanbul court gave him a 10-month suspended prison sentence on condition that he does not commit the same crime again for five years.

“Honestly we were not expecting this ruling, and all I can say is, both legally and for the country, it’s a sad decision,” Say’s lawyer Meltem Akyol told Reuters.

Religious conservatives have become ever more assertive since Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party, which has roots in Islamist politics, swept to power a decade ago, arousing fears that Turkey’s secular traditions are being eroded.

“Say did not repeat the words of a poet, but attacked religion and the holy values of religion, completely with his own words,” said plaintiff Ali Emre Bukagili, a civil engineer and follower of a prominent Turkish creationist, who has brought a series of such cases against public figures.

DIVIDED OPINION

Say, who has performed with leading orchestras from Tokyo to Berlin, as well as the Israel Philharmonic and the New York Philharmonic, denied the charge.

“Fazil Say” became a top trending topic on Twitter immediately after the ruling was announced, with comments reflecting Turks’ sharply divided opinions on the role of religion in public life.

“Scandalous and disgraceful,” one tweet said of the ruling. “I wouldn’t be surprised if a witch hunt for non-believers starts.”

Another disagreed: “Finding religious values silly is one thing, provoking people through insults another. The court ruling is not wrong.”

Erdogan’s AK, its initials spelling out the Turkish word for purity, was elected in 2002 by a landslide. A decade since then of unprecedented prosperity is admired among Western allies keen to portray NATO member Turkey as a beacon of political stability in a troubled region.

But Erdogan’s opponents accuse him of posing a threat to the modern, secular republic founded by Kemal Ataturk on the ruins of the Ottoman empire 90 years ago.

The courts have helped silence opposition and emasculate a military which was long the self-appointed guardian of Turkish secularism. It pressured an Islamist-led government from power in 1997 but has since been forced into retreat under AK rule.

Erdogan himself served time in prison in 1998, when military influence still held sway, for reciting a poem that a court ruled was an incitement to religious hatred.

The poem Erdogan had read contained the verses: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.”


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Memorial held for Sean Collier, MIT police officer…

More than 1,600 people gathered at MIT on Friday for a memorial service for Sean Collier, the police officer shot to death a year ago in the aftermath of the…

National

Florida man charged with murdering son to play…

A Florida man annoyed that his 16-month-old crying son was preventing him from playing video games suffocated the toddler, police said on Friday.

International

Powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake rattles Mexico

A powerful earthquake struck Mexico Friday, shaking buildings and sending people running into the street, although there were no reports of major damage.

News

OMG! Exercise can make skin (and butt) look…

A moderate exercise regime can turn back time and actually reverse the skin's aging process, according to new research. The study showed that a minimum…

Entertainment

Whoopi Goldberg makes her debut as marijuana columnist

"It helps my head stop hurting, and with glaucoma your eyes ache, and she takes the ache out. It's wonderful," she said.

The Word

Kate Middleton made fun of Prince William's bald…

Kate Middleton and Prince William are in Sydney, Australia, right now, and it sounds like that brash Aussie sense of humor might be rubbing off.

The Word

Is Tom Cruise dating Laura Prepon?

"Mission: Impossible" star Cruise is said to be dating Laura Prepon, star of "Orange is the New Black."

Television

'Scandal' recap: Season 3, Episode 18, 'The Price…

Sally is Jesus, Olivia caused global warming, and Mellie's still drunk. Let's recap the Scandal finale. A church full of Washington insiders is about to…

NHL

NHL video highlights & analysis: Red Wings dump…

NHL video highlights & analysis: Red Wings dump Bruins in Game 1

MLB

MLB video highlights: Orioles top Red Sox, 8-4…

John Lackey roughed up for second straight outing

MLB

MLB video highlights: Red Sox score two in…

Lester shines in Red Sox win over White Sox

Sports

2014 Boston Marathon preview: Elite American, International runners…

2014 Boston Marathon: Elite American, International runners to watch

Tech

VIDEO: 'Vein-scanning' may become the future of paying

Designed to make transactions quicker and easier, the technology works by scanning the unique vein patterns in each person's palm.

Tech

#FollowFriday: 10 of the smartest Twitter accounts

Spending lots of time on Twitter? You might as well learn something. Here are some of the smartest accounts to follow.

Style

Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.

Wellbeing

Why is dance cardio taking off in NYC?

Instructors at some of the city's hottest classes explain why.