News / Europe

    Turkish Pianist's Conviction Provokes Debate

    Fazil Say, an internationally known Turkish pianist, during a concert in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2012.
    Fazil Say, an internationally known Turkish pianist, during a concert in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2012.
    Dorian Jones
    Turkey's internationally acclaimed pianist Fazil Say was convicted by a Turkish court earlier this month of blasphemy. His conviction has provoked a fierce debate over the balance between religious freedom and freedom from religion.

    Say is on an extended international tour. But his conviction for blasphemy and the 10-month suspended prison sentence now hanging over his head has put his return to Turkey in doubt.

    The 43-year-old pianist was convicted for inciting religious hatred, for retweeting a series of comments on religion. One was a quote attributed to the medieval Persian poet Omar Khayyam questioning whether heaven was a brothel or tavern because of the promise of virgins and wine.

    Say, an atheist, is an outspoken critic of the influence of religion in Turkish society and the country's Islamist-rooted government. For other critics of this trend, like internationally renowned Turkish artist Bedri Baykam, Say's conviction sends a worrying message.

    "We feel totally vulnerable in front of the government with the ways the laws are being used," said Baykam. "You don't have the right to think or you don't have the right to be atheist or you don't have the right to criticize religion. So people who are atheist, people who criticize things that are written in religious books, so will they be forbidden to talk? We are talking about hell."

    Say's conviction has drawn condemnation worldwide, with Amnesty International describing it as "chilling." The conviction coincided with the U.S. State Department's annual report on human rights, which strongly criticized Turkey over freedom of expression.

    But Turkish Culture and Tourism Minister Omer Celik stressed that artists aren't above the law.

    "I don't want anyone prosecuted for what they say, but everyone - cultural figures, ordinary citizens and politicians alike - are 'equal before the law,'" said  Celik.
     
    Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is now pressing for greater protection of the Islamic faith both at home and abroad.

    During a U.N. conference in Vienna in February,  Erdogan said "Islamophobia" must be regarded as a crime against humanity "just like Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism," and called on the international community, in particular Europe, to do its part in combating it.

    Turkey currently leads the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Its head, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, says such measures have nothing to do with curtailing freedom of expression.

    "We believe in the right of freedom of expression, but we also believe [in] the freedom of religion," said Ihsanoglu. "How can someone practice his religion freely in dignity and without fear, if his religion, which is part of their identify, is denigrated and insulted?"

    Critics point out there is an irony here. Prime Minister Erdogan himself was sent to jail in 1998 for quoting the lines of a famous Turkish poem "minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers." His jailing was part of a crackdown inspired by the staunchly secular military. Many religious activists were jailed and Islamic schools closed.

    Istar Gozaydin of Istanbul's Dogus University is an expert on the often uneasy relationship in Turkey between religion and the state. She says Erdogan's decade-long rule has been characterized by the restoration and extension of religious rights, but warns that individual freedom is now at risk.

    "They used to be a problematic time for the believers, for the people who wanted to have the freedom of conscience, religious belief and practices." said Gozaydin. "However, now it is just the opposite. Now there is quite a significant respect for freedom of religion, however there is not much respect for the freedom from religion."

    Say has played with the New York Philharmonic and the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, among others, and has served as a cultural ambassador for the EU. His conviction has made him the symbol of what is becoming an increasingly polarizing debate over religious freedom and freedom from religion  - one that seems destined to only intensify.

    You May Like

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Eissa from: Egypt
    April 30, 2013 10:08 PM
    "Questioning whether heaven was a brothel or tavern because of the promise of virgins and wine"... That sounds like an ignorant INTERPRETATION (derived from the Qur'an). It is a CHOICE to take that as an insult or denigration of the religion. By persecuting such comments, the government is lowering itself to the same level of ignorance.

    by: Mayray
    April 30, 2013 8:09 AM
    I hope religion won't lead to the end of this world soon. By the heavens, a man has got the right to air his views!

    University of Nigeria
    http://unn.edu.ng

    by: Abriskil from: Aqwa
    April 28, 2013 4:07 PM
    I remember the days when this government was claimed to be champions of liberty in Turkey, by American media. What has changed now? Turkey is worse than 90s in which it had communist and kurdish terrorists to blame for lack of liberties.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora