Pianist Fazil Say
Pianist Fazil Say has long been regarded as one of Turkey’s greatest international artists, having performed with the philharmonic orchestras of Berlin, New York, Tokyo and Israel. If he is sentenced to 18 months in jail for the Twitter comments he recently made, Say believes his career will be over.
One of the 42-year-old’s ‘controversial’ Tweets asked whether paradise could be a brothel, which was thought to be quoted from medieval Persian poet Omar Khayyam who once wrote, "You say that there are rivers of wine. Does that mean it is a heavenly bar? You say two virgins will be given to every believer. Does that mean it is a heavenly brothel?"
Regardless of the origin of the words, Turkish Muslims began attacking the pianist on Twitter, to which he reacted with sarcasm: "The muezzin's call for evening prayer lasts only 22 seconds. Prestissimo con fuoco!! Why the haste? A mistress? The raki table?"
But Turkish authorities did not appear to be in on the joke, wasting no time in alerting Istanbul’s Public Prosecution Service which subsequently charged Say with insulting Muslim religious values. The prosecutor even went as far as to claim that Say’s tweets could have potentially led to a "collapse of public order."
A self-professed atheist, Say has caught the eye of the Turkish authorities before, after he stated that he had considered leaving the country because of the politics of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
"When I said I was an atheist everybody insulted me", the artist said
He went on to state that the authorities chased after everything he posted on Twitter, and that this led him to feel ostracised from Turkish society.
Although Say was one of 166 Twitter users to re-tweet the quote by the poet Khayyam, he is the only one facing trial for doing so. However, Turkish authorities have been equally as hard on their artists in the past, ordering author and Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk to pay damages in 2006 following his public criticism of the genocide of Armenians. Similarly, author Elif Shafak was forced to stand trial for attacking the same subject in her novel, "The bastard of Istanbul", whilst author Nedim Gürsel also faced trial in 2009 for criticising Islam.
Say’s lawyer, Meltem Akyol, has acknowledged that religious values are punishable with prison sentences in Turkey but has denied all charges made against her client. Say himself was reported stating that his comments were never meant to offend anyone, and that he will be fighting for his right to a freedom of opinion.
The trial date has been set for October 18th, and if found guilty, the artist will face 18 months in jail. Say is not alone in his fight, with fans and friends already having launched a campaign (which has already reached 5,000 members) in order to save the artist from incarceration.