Turkish pianist Fazil on trial for insulting Islam



Zeenews Bureau

Istanbul: World-famous Turkish pianist and composer Fazil Say landed himself in trouble after he allegedly tweeted controversial remarks that apparently insulted Islam.

According to report, 42-year-old Fazil appeared in court on Thursday to defend himself against charges of offending Muslims and insulting Islam in comments he made on Twitter.

Fazil had tweeted: "Why such haste? Have you got a mistress waiting or a raki on the table?" Raki is a traditional alcoholic drink made with aniseed. Islam forbids alcohol and many Islamists consider the remarks unacceptable.

Fazil has rejected the charges and demanded his acquittal, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency.

Fazil is on trial for sending tweets that included one in April that joked about a call to prayer that lasted only 22 seconds. The trial was adjourned until February 18 and the musician was granted the right not to appear at subsequent court hearings due to his concert schedules.

In June, Prosecutors charged Fazil with inciting hatred and public enmity, and with insulting "religious values." He faces a maximum 18 months prison term, although any sentence is likely to be suspended.

Fazil, who has played with the New York Philharmonic, the Berlin Symphony Orchestra and others, has also served as a cultural ambassador for the European Union.

Hundreds of his fans, supporters and human rights activists went to the courthouse in Istanbul in a show of solidarity, holding up signs that read: "Fazil Say is not alone" and "Free Art, Free World."

On Thursday, Egemen Bagis, the minister in charge of relations with the EU, suggested the case against Say should be dismissed saying the court should regard Say's tweets as being within "his right to babble." However, he criticized the pianist for "insulting people's faith and values."

Say has since closed his Twitter account and has said he plans to leave Turkey for Japan. His lawyer said Say has received some death threats.

The musician, known for his eccentricities on stage, has pressed ahead with concerts and recitals in Turkey despite his legal woes.

Turkey has a history of prosecuting its artists and writers, and the European Union has long encouraged the nation to improve freedom of speech if it wants to become a member of the bloc one day.

(With Agency inputs)