Tweeting Turkish pianist gets suspended sentence for blasphemy against Islam
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 prison sentence but suspended it by five years on condition that he does not commit the same crime again in that period.
“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.