Fazil Say: Turkish Pianist Given 10 Month Jail Sentence For Twitter Blasphemy

Turkish pianist, Fazil Say, 43, has received a suspended 10-month jail sentence on Monday for insulting Islam on Twitter.

Born in Ankara, Turkey, Say has played for orchestras in Berlin, St. Petersburg, New York, France, Israel, and Tokyo. He has also composed several orchestral works. He wrote his first piano sonata in 1984 during his time as a student at the Conservatory in Ankara. It is said his rise to international musical fame occurred in 1994 when he won the Young Concert Artists International Auditions.

In a series of tweets from last year, Say shared offensive words, such as, "I am not sure if you have also realised it, but all the ... low-lives, buffoons, thieves, jesters, they are all Allahists." He also retweeted a verse from a poem that spoke of religious hypocrisy. The verse said, "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?"

Say is a known atheist who has accused the Islamic-leaning ruling party of wanting to use religion to promote conservative values. The court's issuance of a suspended sentence allows Say to stay out of jail on grounds of a probation period for the next five years. As long as he does not commit another crime during that time span, he will more than likely not have to face any jail time. For a supposedly secular nation, this case comes as a surprise as well as a testament to Turkey's ongoing problems related to freedom of expression within the country.

These issues and more in Turkey have been chronicled in Amnesty International’s 2012 report on the country.

As outlined by the organization: "In particular, critical journalists, Kurdish political activists, and others risked unfair prosecution when speaking out on the situation of Kurds in Turkey, or criticizing the armed forces. In addition to prosecutions brought under various articles of the Penal Code, a vast number of cases threatening freedom of expression were brought under anti-terrorism legislation (see Unfair trials). Threats of violence against prominent outspoken individuals continued. In November new regulations came into force raising further concerns regarding the arbitrary restriction of websites."

Out of the country when his sentence was announced, Say stands by the belief that he has "committed no crime."

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Zainab Akande

Born and raised in New York City, Zainab is a University of Delaware alum, currently working on obtaining her M.A. in journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in New York. http://zainabakande.com/

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