Why is Turkey Prosecuting Yet Another Artist?

February 19, 2013

Supporter of Turkish pianist Fazil Say holds a sign in support of Say.
A supporter of world-renowned Turkish pianist Fazil Say holds a cardboard reading “Fazil Say is not alone” during a protest held outside an Istanbul court on October 18, 2012. (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

It is a cold winter for freedom of expression in Turkey. Thousands are in prison or in pre-trial detention under Turkey’s bloated anti-terrorism laws, including nearly three thousand students.

Artists have been targeted as well. Five members of the protest band, Grup Yorum, have reportedly been taken into custody on terrorism charges (their lawyers have alleged that members of the group were tortured in a previous case). And Fazıl Say, arguably Turkey’s most respected classical music artist, is on trial for “religious defamation.”

Say is one is a long, unhappy series of prominent artists and intellectuals, including Nobel Prize laureate Orhan Pamuk,  who have been targeted for prosecution in Turkey because of opinions they have voiced.

Say is being prosecuted under Article 216, which, among other things, calls for prison terms for “openly [denigrating] the religious values of a part of the population.” Previously, satirical websites and cartoonists have also been prosecuted under this statute.  The complaints against Say stem from Twitter messages that he posted which were perceived as critical of Islam. Among the offending tweets was a repost of a quote from Fourteenth Century poet, Omar Khayyam, which decries pious hypocrisy. (Khayyam himself is presumably safe from prosecution.)

Say’s case is a prominent example of the ways in which the prosecutors and courts have used the law in Turkey to stifle dissent and controversial opinions. A hearing this week ended with a continuance until April 15.

Stay informed and take action!

Join us in working to address human rights violations in Turkey. You can stay informed of human rights violations by following us on our blog and on Facebook.  And you can join us in our work, by contacting Natsumi Ajiki at [email protected] and joining Amnesty International – USA’s Turkey Regional Action Network.

Please also consider supporting PEN’s current action on Fazıl Say. Together we can make a difference.