Istanbul: An Istanbul court on Monday slapped world-renowned pianist Fazil Say with a 10-month suspended jail term for blasphemy, the latest in a series of cases to raise eyebrows about Turkey’s dismal record on freedom of speech.
The court handed down the sentence after finding Say guilty of “insulting religious values of a part of the population” in a series of tweets that critics said insulted Islam and Muslims. The pianist was not present in court during the sentencing.
The court ordered a “supervised release” for Say, meaning that he would be free as long as he did not commit a similar crime within five years.
The sentence was reduced from 12 months due to good behaviour in court.
“We reject the charges against us but the decision is the court’s,” the musician’s lawyer Meltem Akyol told the court.
“We believe that there is no intentional act of denigration or mockery” in Say’s tweets, she said.
Say has accused the AKP, the ruling Justice and Development Party, of being behind the case against him.
Say, an atheist, has often criticised the Islamist-rooted party, accusing it of having a secret agenda to promote conservative values in Turkey.
The 43-year-old virtuoso, who has played with the philharmonic orchestras of Berlin, New York, Tokyo and Israel, was charged with inciting religious hatred and insulting Islamic values in a series of tweets.
The charges relate to tweets from April last year, including one where he said: “I am not sure if you have also realised it, but all the...low-lives, buffoons, thieves, jesters, they are all Allahists.”
He had faced a maximum sentence of 18 months.
The case stoked fears of growing restrictions on freedom of expression in a country which has long sought to join the European Union.
Amnesty International said in a report last month that “freedom of expression is under attack in Turkey,” calling for legislative reforms to bring “abuses to an end”.
Dozens of journalists are in detention in Turkey, as well as lawyers, politicians and lawmakers - most of them accused of plotting against the government or having links with the outlawed Kurdish rebel movement the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Critics accuse Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government of using courts to silence dissenting voices.
Since coming to power in 2002, Erdogan has also sought to diminish the power of Turkey’s military, the self-appointed guardian of the secular state which has carried out four coups over half a century.
In September, more than 300 retired and active military officers were sentenced to jail for plotting to topple Erdogan’s government and hundreds more are still behind bars awaiting trial.