It’s almost becoming a tired truth that freedom of speech is virtually non-existent in Turkey, and Monday’s sentencing of the internationally acclaimed Turkish pianist and composer Fazil Say is further evidence.
The 42-year-old Say, who has played in orchestras around the world, was given a 10-month prison sentence for insulting Islam and offending Muslims for his posts on Twitter. The sentence was suspended for five years, meaning that he won’t see the inside of a jail cell unless he repeats the “guilty action.”
In one tweet, he joked about the length of a call to prayer, “questioning whether the muezzin who makes the call was running late for a drink.”
“Why such haste? Have you got a mistress waiting or a raki on the table?”
Raki is a traditional alcoholic drink. The other tweet cited in Say’s indictment concerned the 11-century Persian poet, Omar Khayyam, which mocked the Islamic vision of the afterlife, asking whether heaven was a tavern or a brothel.
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But Say, who has publicly said he is an atheist, denied the charges, saying in a written statement that he was concerned about the future of free speech in Turkey because he has been sentenced “although I’ve committed no crime.”
Cases like Say’s have become routine procedure, despite Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying in September that, today:
“Turkey is very different than Turkey was 10 years ago, when we first came to government. We are now going through a period where freedom of expression is at its peak.”
It simply isn’t true. Erdogan’s country has more jailed journalists that China and Iran combined. Newspapers and editors are repeatedly reprimanded or dismissed from their posts if critical of his administration. And it even extends to the country’s youth.
In February, it was reported that Erdogan was suing seven high school students for defamation after they called him “Ampul Tayyip,” or “Light bulb Tayyip.”
The other tired truth is that Turkey is not the beacon of democracy it likes to believe it is. And Say’s conviction shines the spotlight on just how far away from it Turkey actually is.