Turkey: Pianist Fazil Say sentenced for Twitter posts

World-renowned Turkish pianist Fazil Say was given a 10 month suspended jail sentence for blasphemy by the 19th Criminal Court in Istanbul on April 15 2013 after retweeting an ancient poem on Twitter.

Fazil Say

Fazil Say, 42, was found guilty of violating Article 216 (3) of the Turkish Criminal Code, which prohibits  the ‘denigration of the religious values held by a section of society’. He was convicted of insulting Islam and offending Muslims.

When the sentence was handed down, he was in Germany for a concert in the southern town of Reutlingen. In a written statement, Fazil Say said he was concerned about the implications of the court’s judgment for freedom of expression in his country, since he had been sentenced “although I’ve committed no crime.”

Fazil Say said during earlier hearings that the accusations against him went “against universal human rights and laws.”

The poem by a famous 11th-century Persian poet, Omar Khayyam, was sent to Fazil Say from another Twitter user before he forwarded – re-tweeted – it. It poked fun at an Islamic vision of the afterlife.

Hundreds of Fazil Say’s fans and supporters have attended the three hearings in six months to protest against his prosecution. He has continued to perform nationally and internationally.

This was reported by Sebnem Arsu for Sydney Morning Herald:

Sydney Morning Herald – 16 April 2013:
Turkish pianist sentenced for Twitter posts
By Sebnem Arsu


BBC News – 15 April 2013:
Turkish pianist Fazil Say convicted of insulting Islam
World-renowned Turkish pianist Fazil Say has been given a suspended 10-month jail sentence for insulting Muslim values.


Jyllands-Posten – 16 April 2013:
Berømt pianist dømt for at genere islam (Renowned pianist sentenced for offending Islam)
Turkish authorities have launched a stricter line against Turkish artists who criticize Islam


Global Post, Agence France-Presse – 27 March 2013:
Freedom of expression in Turkey ‘under attack’: Amnesty
“Amnesty International criticised Wednesday European Union hopeful Turkey’s dismal record on freedom of expression and called for legislative reforms to bring abuses to an end. ‘Freedom of expression is under attack in Turkey,’ the London-based group said.”



 UPDATE:  On 16 April 2013 Freemuse received the following:

ARTICLE 19 condemns the sentencing  of a prominent Turkish pianist for comments he posted on Twitter. Fazil Say was given a 10 month suspended jail sentence by the 19th Criminal Court in Istanbul on April 15 2013 after being found guilty of violating Article 216 (3) of the Turkish Criminal Code, which prohibits  the ‘denigration of the religious values held by a section of society’.

“This sentence is in violation of the right to freedom of expression. People are entitled to pass comment, share views and make reference to debates which other people may find offensive, insulting or upsetting. It is vital that people are able to share thoughts and engage in public debates, including on issues concerning religion”, said Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

“The online world creates new opportunities for free speech. Increasingly however we are witnessing moves to regulate these spaces, censor legitimate speech and close down public discussion. Fazil Say’s conviction will have a dangerous chilling effect on free speech online in a country which already has a poor track record when it comes to freedom of expression” she added.

Say was charged in June 2012 by the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office after he posted a series of Tweets on Twitter in April of that year. He maintains that he did not insult Islam and merely retweeted a verse from a poem.

ARTICLE 19 is also concerned that there may be a political motivation behind Say’s conviction. Say has openly identified himself as an atheist and is a prominent critic of the current government, lead by the AKP (Justice & Development Party).

While the right to freedom of expression can be limited in narrow circumstances, including to protect against defamation or to protect national security or public order, international standards do not provide for restrictions on the basis of offended religious feelings.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Turkish government to ensure freedom of expression is protected online as well as off-line, and in this case to:

  • Overturn Fazil Say’s suspended prison sentence.
  • Revise Article 126 of the Criminal Code and bring it in line with international standards on free expression, including the European Convention of Human Rights, of which it is a signatory.



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