An international composer and pianist from Turkey who identifies as atheist is facing jail time over Twitter comments he made that government authorities have been deemed as insulting to Islam.
Fazil Say, who has attained fame as a classical and jazz pianist, is facing up to 18 months in prison for "publicly insulting religious values that are adopted by a part of the nation." His trial begins Oct. 18.
Say stands accused of passing along Twitter messages that compare the Islamic vision of heaven as rivers of wine and virgins to a tavern and a brothel. Say also reportedly wrote a message suggesting that a Muslim's call to prayer was delivered so rapidly that he wondered if the man wanted to get away quickly for a drink.
"I just thought it was a funny allegory and re-tweeted the message," said the composer, who has played at the New York Philharmonic and the Berlin Symphony Orchestra. "It is unbelievable that it was made into a court case."
The messages, which were no longer available online Monday, are not the first time Say has gotten into hot water with the country's Muslim authorities. According to The New York Times, the pianist has frequently criticized the pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party government over its cultural and social policies. Say also has publicly identified himself as an atheist, an unpopular position among the near-80 million population, of which 99.8 percent identify as Muslim.
Turkey has often been accused of having little tolerance for residents who do not adhere to Islam. Open Doors USA, an organization that exposes persecution and injustice committed against Christians worldwide, has ranked Turkey as number 31 on its list of top 50 countries where persecution of Christians is most severe. Earlier this year, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) placed Turkey on its worst religious offenders list, alongside countries such as Iran, Iraq and North Korea.
"This case, which goes against universal human rights and laws, is saddening not only when judged on its own merit but also for Turkey's image," Say added.
Turkey has targeted a number of individuals in recent times who have spoken out against the government. Last year for example, Nobel laureate writer Orhan Pamuk was fined $3,700 for telling a Swiss newspaper that Turks "have killed 30,000 Kurds and 1 million Armenians," referring to accusations of genocide.