On Monday 18 February 2013, celebrated pianist, composer and writer Fazıl Say was due to appear in court for the second time for comments posted on Twitter. Say has been charged with religious defamation under Article 216/3 of the Turkish Penal Code in response to a series of messages he posted and re-tweeted, and under Article 218 of the Turkish Penal Code, which increases sentences by half for offences committed “via press or broadcast”. Say denies the charges.
During Monday’s hearing the claimant’s lawyers reportedly argued that the holy values of three major religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – had been publicly degraded. Say’s lawyer Meltem Akyol denied that Say’s tweets were degrading to religious values, highlighting the fact that one of those included in the indictment was not only a re-tweet, but a direct quotation from a verse written by Omar Khayyam.
The claimant also submitted a request to the court to assess whether or not Say is autistic, reportedly based on “suspicions… gained from the media”. The claimant stated that he would move for the trial to be dropped if such a diagnosis was found, adding that he is not “without a conscience”. Say’s lawyer dismissed the media speculation around her client’s alleged autism, noting that the professor reported to have made the allegation had never carried out an examination of Say. The judge rejected the request for a diagnosis.
The next hearing is now scheduled to take place on Monday 15 April. Please continue to show your support for Fazıl Say and free expression in Turkey ahead of this third hearing by sending letters of appeal to the Turkish authorities and to the Embassy in London – more details below.
Ahead of Monday’s hearing, leading UK musicians, composers and writers joined English PEN in sending an open letter to Turkey’s Minister of Justice Sadullah Ergin calling for the charges against Say to be dropped. The letter, signed by Brian Eno, Thomas Adès, David Hare, Alan Ayckbourn, Ahdaf Soueif, Ian McEwan, Roland Gift and English PEN President Gillian Slovo, amongst other leading artists, stated:
“The charges are in violation of Say’s right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Turkey is a signatory. Even those who are usually critical of Say have voiced concerns over this case, which they believe could be damaging to Turkey’s international reputation.”
The artists went on to highlight Fazıl Say’s grave concerns about “the negative impact a prison sentence would have on his career as the country’s leading classical composer and an internationally renowned pianist” and that he had suggested that he would consider emigrating “as a result of the ‘growing culture of intolerance’ in Turkey”.
The letter concluded “As fellow composers, musicians and writers who cherish both creative freedom and the right to free expression we strongly urge you to drop all charges against Fazıl Say immediately and unconditionally.”
Of further concern to English PEN is the fact that our colleagues at PEN Turkey are currently under investigation for “insulting the state” as a result of critical comments about the ongoing prosecution of Say. Six members of the PEN Turkey board (President Tarık Günersel, Vice-President Halil İbrahim Özcan, General Secretary Sabri Kuşkonmaz, Treasurer Tülin Dursun, and board members Zeynep Oral and Mario Levi) and poet and critic Nihat Ateş (who uploaded the content to the PEN Turkey website) were called in for questioning in January 2013 by the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office. The investigation is ongoing.
Send letters of appeal
- Protesting the charges against Fazıl Say, which violate his right to free expression;
- Calling for the investigation against PEN Turkey to be dropped.
Mr Sadullah Ergin
Minister of Justice
Fax: 00 90 312 419 3370
His Excellency Mr. Ünal Çeviköz
43 Belgrave Square
Fax: 020 7393 9213
Or you could use the form below. A sample letter is provided but it is always better if you put the appeal in your own words.