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Court sentences top pianist accused of tweets that insulted Islam

By Gul Tuysuz, Talia Kayali and Ivan Watson, CNN
updated 2:11 PM EDT, Mon April 15, 2013
A poster reads
A poster reads "Fazil Say is not alone," left, at a protest outside an Istanbul court on October 18, 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: "This is shameful for Turkish democracy," says Turkey's main opposition party
  • Pianist Fazil Say openly insulted religious values with his Twitter posts, court says
  • His 10-month sentence is suspended as long as he doesn't commit a similar crime
  • Say has criticized Turkey's governing Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party

Istanbul, Turkey (CNN) -- An Istanbul court slapped a world-renowned musician Monday with a 10-month suspended sentence for posting a series of tweets that poked fun at Islamic descriptions of heaven.

Classical concert pianist Fazil Say, 43, was found guilty of "openly insulting the religious values held by a portion of the public" for the tweets, which were posted last year.

"Although I am innocent and have not committed any crime, this decision I received is more worrisome for the freedom of expression and belief in Turkey than it is to me as a person," Say wrote in a statement posted on his Facebook page. The sentence marks a "very sad day for freedom of expression in Turkey," Say's lawyer Meltem Akyol told CNN. "We were expecting an acquittal."

"Freedom of expression does not entitle you to condescend or offend or insult people," countered plaintiff Ali Emre Bukagili. "That's a crime."

Say's tweets included: "You say the rivers will flow with wine, is heaven a tavern? You say each believer will receive two women, is heaven a brothel?" according to the indictment.

In another, Say joked about the short duration of a cleric's traditional Islamic call to prayer. The tweet asked a rhetorical question to the chanting cleric: "What's the hurry? Lover waiting?" the indictment said.

Say also was convicted of retweeting allegedly offensive posts, such as, "I am not sure if you have realized it, but where there is scum, a lowlife, a thief or a fool, s/he is always an Allahist. Is this a paradox?"

Faruk Logoglu, deputy international affairs chairman of the nation's main opposition party, CHP, called the sentence a "new link in the long chain of assaults on the freedom of expression and freedom of conscience in Turkey."

"This is shameful for Turkish democracy," he said.

Say won't have to serve his sentence as long as he doesn't commit a similar crime within the next five years. "The decision is a correct one," said Bukagili. "In our laws, it is against the law to publicly insult a belief, and he did that."

The case was filed last June after three plaintiffs lodged formal complaints.

Say has been a vocal critic of the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party, which has governed Turkey since it first won parliamentary elections more than a decade ago. Critics linked the case to a recent string of freedom of expression prosecutions in Turkey.

Last year, Say commented on the case for CNN Turk. "... if I thought I was guilty, I would feel uncomfortable with myself and would enter the jail on my own," he said. "It is difficult for them to send me to jail. It is that simple."

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