Turkish Atheist Fazil Say Sentenced for Blasphemy for His Offensive Tweets

Months ago we brought you the story of Fazil Say, a world-renowned pianist who was to be prosecuted for the “crime” of tweeting jokes about Islam.

Despite protests both within and outside Turkey, the prosecution went ahead and declared Say guilty of “insulting religious values of a part of the population,” giving him a 10-month jail sentence. Thankfully, it is a suspended sentence, so Say will not have to enter prison, but it does mean that if Say commits a similar “crime” within the next five years, he would be ordered to enter prison. (So shut up, or else.)

Turks protest the blasphemy trial of Fazil Say (image via milliyet.com)

The trial was conducted without the presence of the accused. Fazil Say himself remains outside the country and responded to the sentence this way:

“I am sorry for my country after the court’s ruling,” Say said after the sentence was meted out. “I am disappointed in the sense of freedom of speech. I am worried more for the state of freedom of speech and belief in Turkey than I am for my own sentence.”

The EU also responded:

A spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Brussels was “concerned” by the term, which “underlines the importance for Turkey to fully respect freedom of expression.”

The opinion of the EU is important, because Turkey has been trying to enter the EU for years, and its dismal record on freedom of speech remains one of several issues preventing them from moving forward.

In Turkey, the relationship between secularism and religion has been complicated for a very long time. The ruling government party, the AKP has brought with it a resurgence of Islamic values. But Turkey is anything but homogeneous, and secular Turks (both religious and non-religious) are a formidable force that has opposed this slide into Islamism every step of the way. Fazil Say, his supporters, and all secular Turks fighting to keep Turkey a free nation deserve our thanks and support. They fight in conditions we can hardly fathom and face backlashes we almost never confront. Never is that more clear than when a fellow non-believer faces judgment by his own government for having the temerity to speak his mind.

About Claudia

I'm a lifelong atheist and a molecular biologist with a passion for science and a passionate opposition to its enemies.

  • ortcutt

    The EU would have more moral authority to speak out against blasphemy and religious insult laws if it weren’t for the fact that quite a few of its members have such laws.

    • Sandra Duffy

      This is true. Such a law exists in Ireland shamefully. No one has ever been prosecuted but it still needs to go.

    • Spuddie

      Also if the EU weren’t constantly rebuffing Turkey’s applications for membership. One of the reasons Turkey elected a fundie who has aligned himself with the Middle East was they were so fed up of being rejected for membership in Europe.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chengis-Khan/100003317165064 Chengis Khan

    An unusual coincidence: Only last week I bought an album containing Say’s Violin Sonata, Op. 7 among other compositions by Beethoven, Ravel and Bartok. He plays piano for his sonata with Kopatchinskaja on violin.
    So as usual religion this week continues it’s awesome streak of wreaking vengeance on human intelligence.

  • DougI

    Fundies gets elected to be Prime Minister and President then we hear about blasphemy charges. Sure, the previous government was corrupt but at least they were secular.

  • Spuddie

    The major problem the secularists face in Turkey right now is the long history of being associated with the military.

    Since the end of WWI the Turkish military and secularist parties have instituted periodic coups to prevent Islamicist influence in government. Turkey has varied wildly between very liberal secularist to repressive. Sometimes in the span of a decade or so.

    To give you a hint as to how secular Turkey has been on occasion, they are the
    the first country to legally produce pornographic materials in the Muslim world.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0120a5509de8970c ミッコ

    Say No to Turkey as an EU member

  • WillBell

    When I saw “part of the population” I was immediately reminded of this:


    If a Christian or Atheist had been insulted I guess nothing would have happened.

  • Chris

    Atheism is deeply offensive