Turkish PM refuses to comment as opposition slams Fazıl Say verdict

Turkish PM refuses to comment as opposition slams Fazıl Say verdict

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkish PM refuses to comment as opposition slams Fazıl Say verdict

Fazıl Say was dealt a 10-month suspended jail term for blasphemy on April 15 in the latest in a series of cases to raise eyebrows about Turkey's dismal record on freedom of speech. AFP PHOTO / BERND THISSEN

Reactions continued to grow yesterday after a Turkish court convicted world-renowned pianist Fazıl Say with a 10-month suspended prison sentence for blasphemy on April 15.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said the verdict showed that democracy in Turkey was under threat.

“If you are going to jail our artists, encourage the judiciary in that way. If you are going to abuse the justice system - which does not really exist - I am sad to say that democracy in this country is at stake,” Kılıçdaroğlu said at his party’s weekly group meeting April 16.

“If you convict our artist you do not shame only yourself, but your country as well. Turkey does not deserve such a scene,” he added.

On the other hand, when asked to comment on the issue, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threw reporters a smile and said: “Do not occupy our time with such matters.”

European Union Minister Egemen Bağış also expressed his support for the court’s verdict. “Everyone should learn to respect what is sacred for others,” he said. 

Say was convicted for “insulting the religious beliefs held by a section of the society” in tweets and retweets posted on his account in April 2012.

The tweets including a couplet attributed to 12th century poet, mathematician and philosopher Omer Khayyam: “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?” 

Say also tweeted the following observation: “I don’t know whether you have noticed or not but wherever there is a stupid person or a thief, they are believers in God. Is this a paradox?” 

‘A very bad player…’

In an interview with the Hürriyet Daily News in Ankara following the court’s decision, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone merely said that his brother, David Ricciardone, who is a Supreme Court Judge in Massachusetts, had remarked to him: “A very bad piano player hit the wrong key.” 

The local branch of International PEN also issued a statement April 16 condemning the court’s verdict.

“Turkey will never bear peace if it does not realize the classic democratic powers of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. Unfortunately, more people like Fazıl Say will be jailed,” the statement read.

Amnesty International’s Turkey researcher Andrew Gardner told Russia Today that the verdict was in line with a “clear trend of abusive prosecutions” in Turkey. 

“Anyone really speaking out on one of these controversial subjects risks prosecution from the authorities, if the view they are expressing does not fit with the view the authorities have on this controversial subject. It’s not so much an issue of secularism or religious values,” Gardner said.