Turkish pianist Fazıl Say to be retried on blasphemy charges

Turkish pianist Fazıl Say to be retried on blasphemy charges

Turkish pianist Fazıl Say to be retried on blasphemy charges

A file photo taken on February 9, 2010 shows Turkish pianist and composer Fazil Say posing at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris. AFP Photo

An Istanbul court today accepted Fazıl Say’s request for the suspension of a 10-month prison sentence he received for “insulting religious beliefs,” paving the way for a retrial.

Upon an appeal from Say’s lawyers, the 29th Criminal Court in Istanbul annulled the decision to suspend the world-renowned pianist’s prison sentence, arguing that “it was not clearly explained in the trial what the decision to suspend the punishment meant,” and “the desicion to suspend the punishment was not in the suspect’s best interest.”

The case will now be sent back to the 19th Court, which will rule again on the charges.

Say was handed a suspended 10-month prison sentence last week for “insulting religious beliefs held by a section of the society,” bringing to a close a controversial case while sparking fiery reaction in Turkey and abroad.

Say was initially handed eight months for “committing and insisting on committing a crime” before the court tacked on an additional four years because the artist voiced the insult through “a mode of publication.” The sentence was eventually reduced to 10 months, which was then suspended, allowing Say to remain free if he completes a supervised five-year term without committing a similar crime.

Say had been the focus of a legal battle since he retweeted several lines attributed to poet Omar Khayyam in April 2012, saying, “You say its rivers will flow in wine. Is the Garden of Eden a drinking house? You say you will give two houris to each Muslim. Is the Garden of Eden a whorehouse?”

Judge Yaşar Yetiş criticized the lower court’s decision to accept Ali Emre Bukağılı as an intervening party because he was “a Muslim and a victim of the crime.”

“If it’s accepted that a Muslim has been a victim of a criticism against Islam, the judge might be deemed impartial if he’s a Muslim and cannot preside the trial,” Yetiş said in his ruling, adding it would be impossible for billions of Muslims to be accepted as intervening parties and thus the demand should have been turned down.

The punishment stirred a worldwide outcry, with a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton saying Brussels was “concerned” by the 10-month sentence, which “underlines the importance for Turkey to fully respect freedom of expression.”

Prominent film critic and writer Atilla Dorsay, who recently resigned from daily Sabah over recent clashes at Emek Theater, described the ruling as “horrid.”

“For whatever reason, it isn’t within sanity to hand down such a punishment to a world-renowned artist,” Dorsay said.