Reporters Without Borders condemns Turkish-Armenian writer’s blasphemy sentence

Reporters Without Borders condemns Turkish-Armenian writer’s blasphemy sentence

Reporters Without Borders condemns Turkish-Armenian writer’s blasphemy sentence

Sevan Nişanyan during the opening of a rock-cut tomb near Şirince, in İzmir province, last year. The renowned linguist had been sentenced to 58 weeks in prison for an alleged insult to the Prophet Muhammad in a blog post. DHA photo

Reporters Without Borders (RWB) condemned today the 13.5-month prison sentence issued by an Istanbul court in a statement May 22 for the Turkish-Armenian writer and linguist Sevan Nişanyan for alleged blasphemy in a blog post.

"Nişanyan's jail sentence is a grave violation of freedom of information and sends a threatening message to fellow journalists and bloggers that is unacceptable," the group said, urging the Turkish judiciary to overturn the sentence in an appeal trial. "Suppression of comments critical of Islam has no place in a secular country such as Turkey," the statement added.

Nişayan's sentence cannot be converted to a financial penalty because of a previous trial, but the writer has the right to appeal.

The press freedom group also warned against the substitution of Turkey's "Kemalist taboos” by religious censorship. "We have often hailed the gradual weakening of Turkey's Kemalist – secularist, nationalist and militarist – taboos, but democracy will not benefit if they are replaced by a new religious censorship," the statement read, calling at the same time for the repeal of Article 216-3 of the criminal code under which Nişanyan was condemned.

Nişanyan is one of the leading linguists of Turkey. He has penned columns for the Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos and daily Taraf.

In the blog entry that led to the prison sentence, Nişanyan was in fact calling for the combating of hate speech, urging at the same time more tolerance.

However Nişanyan was charged for blasphemy for the lines: "Making fun of an Arab leader who claimed he contacted Allah hundreds of years ago and received political, financial and sexual benefits is not hate speech. It is an almost kindergarten-level test of what is called freedom of expression."

Last month, renowned Turkish pianist Fazıl Say was also handed a suspended 10-month prison sentence for blasphemy under the same article, after a case that drew national and international criticism.