A Turkish court on Friday formally charged an internationally known pianist and composer with insulting Islamic religious values, in comments he made on Twitter.
The court in Istanbul voted to approve an indictment against Fazil Say (pictured), who has played piano with the New York Philharmonic, Berlin Symphony Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic, National Orchestra of France and Tokyo Symphony.
The 42-year-old Say faces charges of inciting hatred and public enmity, and insulting “religious values.” He allegedly mocked Islamic beliefs about paradise in April.
Say’s lawyer, Meltem Akyol, told AP the pianist has denied the charges. The trial will be held on Oct. 18, she said.
“We certainly do not accept the charges,” Akyol said. “He has stated in his initial testimony during the probe that he had no intention to humiliate any religion. He was basically criticizing those who are exploiting religion for profit.”
Akyol said Say’s tweets and retweets on social media cannot be considered as public remarks because only people who follow him can see them.
In one tweet cited in the indictment, Say said, “What if there is raki (traditional anisette drink) in paradise but not in hell, while there is Chivas Regal (scotch) in hell and not in paradise? What will happen then? This is the most important question!!”
Islam forbids alcohol and many Islamists might consider such remarks unacceptable. In one of Say’s retweets, one excerpt questioned whether paradise was a “brothel?” according to the indictment.
Akyol claimed that line belonged to the wine-loving 11th century Persian poet Omar Khayyam, adding that Say “was merely expressing his ideas within free speech.”
She confirmed that Say closed his Twitter account before the court decision Friday, because he was annoyed with messages.
“He has lately incurred the wrath of some people,” Akyol told AP. “He has even been receiving death threats.”
Say could face a maximum 1 1/2 years in prison if he is convicted, according to the AP report.
Previously, the report noted, Turkey’s Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk was prosecuted for his comments about the mass killings of Armenians, under a law that made it a crime to insult the Turkish identity. The government eased that law in an amendment in 2008.
In another incident in 2007, ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who received death threats because of his comments about the killings of Armenians by Turks in 1915, was shot dead outside his office in Istanbul.
Will Obama stand up for musicians against his pal Erdogan? No… how is that for Hope and Change?
At Toronto’s Globe and Mail, “Conductor shames man after cellphone goes off at philharmonic.” And at London’s Daily Mail, “Are you quite finished? New York Philharmonic conductor dramatically halts performance after cell phone interruption.” (american power) Also at New York Times, “Ringing Finally Ended, but There’s No Button to Stop Shame. Bummer!