Pianist's Posts on Twitter Spur Penalty From Turkey

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ISTANBUL -- A court here handed down a suspended 10-month prison term on Monday for Fazil Say, an internationally acclaimed Turkish pianist and composer convicted of insulting Islam and offending Muslims in postings on Twitter.

Mr. Say, 42, who has performed with major orchestras in places around the world, including New York, Berlin and Tokyo, said during earlier hearings that the accusations against him went "against universal human rights and laws." The sentence was suspended for five years, meaning that the pianist will not be sent to prison unless he is convicted of new offenses within that period.

In recent years, many intellectuals, writers and artists have been prosecuted for statements about Islam and Turkish identity, both of which the pro-Islamic government seeks to shield from criticism. Social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, however, have rarely figured in previous trials, although Turks are active users of the sites.

The messages cited in the indictment were Mr. Say's personal remarks referring to a poem by a famous 11th-century Persian poet, Omar Khayyam, that poked fun at an Islamic vision of the afterlife. The poem was sent to Mr. Say from another user before he forwarded it.

In another personal Twitter post, he joked about the rapid call to prayer at a nearby mosque, questioning whether the muezzin who made the call wanted to get away quickly for a drink.

Mr. Say, who denied the charges, is known for his critical stance against the government's social and cultural policies. He has said publicly that he is an atheist, a rare statement in a country where the bulk of its more than 75 million people identify themselves as Muslims. "Would it be for the government to decide whether a person believes in God or not?" Mr. Say said on CNN Turk, a private television news channel, in a recent interview. "It is hard for them to put me in jail."

Many intellectuals and writers, including the Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, have faced similar charges in recent years, prompting heavy international criticism of Turkey's record on freedom of speech and human rights.

Mr. Pamuk was fined $3,700 for saying in a Swiss newspaper that Turks "have killed 30,000 Kurds and one million Armenians," the last number a reference to the 1915 Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Army, a deeply contentious issue in Turkey.

In other trials, dozens of writers and intellectuals and many journalists face a wide range of terrorism-related charges, hampering Turkey's efforts to join the European Union, which sets high judicial standards for countries that want to join.

Hundreds of Mr. Say's fans and supporters have attended the hearings to protest his prosecution. He has continued to perform nationally and internationally. When the sentence was handed down, he was in southern Germany for a concert.

In a written statement, Mr. Say said he was concerned about the implications of the court's judgment for freedom of expression in his country because he had been sentenced even though "I've committed no crime."

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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