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.)
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.”
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.