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Turkey: Composer in court for ‘insulting Islam’
Istanbul, (Hürriyet Daily News):
Amid protests of support, world-renowned Turkish piano virtuoso and composer Fazýl Say yesterday attended the first hearing of his trial where he issued his defense as a written statement, claiming he was unable to stand long enough to give a verbal defense due to health reasons before the court was adjourned until Feb. 18.
Say faces charges of allegedly “publicly insulting people’s religious beliefs” by sharing an Omar Khayyam quote through his Twitter account.
In his defense, Say said his Twitter account was not open to the public and only those requesting to follow him could see his Twitter posts. “Therefore I could not be accused of publicly insulting people’s religious beliefs because I was expressing myself in my personal space. Those offended by my Twitter posts can do nothing but unfollow me,” Say said.
Before adjourning, the court ruled the plaintiffs needed to prove they were personally following Say on Twitter the day he tweeted the controversial remarks. The court also freed the renowned composer from the obligation of attending upcoming hearings due to his heavy concert schedule.
The plaintiffs called for Say’s sentence to be increased from nine months to 15 months based on Articles 216 and 218 in the Turkish Criminal Code.
The hearing began amid protests of support from fans, politicians and Say’s artistic friends, including famed Turkish sculptor Mehmet Aksoy, whose “Statue of Humanity” was erected in the eastern province of Kars to promote peace and reconciliation between the Turks and Armenians and infamously demolished after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdođan expressed his distaste for it.
According to Dođan news agency, the court allowed only a limited number of accredited journalists into the building on the grounds there was a lack of space in the courtroom, resulting in a large crowd forming outside the courtroom. Ömer Kavili, who chairs the Attorney Rights’ Center of the Istanbul Bar Association, said the Istanbul Chief Prosecutor was responsible for assigning the case to such a small courtroom. “The purpose is clear. They want to slip the case off the public radar on the grounds there is not enough space to host people who want to see the trial. This is openly an irregularity of services on the part of Justice Ministry.”
Dođan news agency reported that Ali Emre Bukađýlý, who demanded to take part in the hearing as a plaintiff, said the defendant insulted religion on Twitter and had previously done similar things to give himself public exposure. “Footballer Alex [de Souza] was fired for the same reason. Say could be an atheist but God’s existence is crystal clear and we can talk about this.” He also requested the hearings continue without public attendance, which the court dismissed.
Say raised a storm on social media when he tweeted a couplet from Khayyam. “You say its rivers will flow in wine. Is the Garden of Eden a drinking house? You say you will give two hours to each Muslim. Is the Garden of Eden a whorehouse?” Say tweeted.
He also tweeted, “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?”
Speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News, Aksoy said what is happening to Say was no different from what happened to his sculpture. “Today this court is not trying Say but Khayyam. He wrote these poems some 800 years ago but never faced charges for them at the time. After nine centuries it is so sad to see the worsened state of the freedom of expression.”
Sevim Dađdalen, a Turkish-German politician who is a member of the German Bundestag, was present at the hearing to present a petition to the prime minister bearing the signatures of 120 deputies of the Bundestag. Dađdelen said she found the trial literally “stupid” and it said was stupid to increase the workload of courts already struggling under a heavy schedule.
The petition said suing an artist for remarks he made on Twitter was an excessive response, reminding the prime minister that Turkey has signed the European Human Rights Convention, which secures freedom of expression in its 10th article.
In its most recent 2012 progress report, the European Union, which Turkey aims to join, said it had “serious concerns” about Ankara’s approach to freedom of expression, noting that Turkey’s “reforms fall short of a significant improvement regarding freedom of expression.”
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