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Pianist faces Islam 'insult' court

A top Turkish pianist and composer has appeared in court accused of offending Muslims and insulting Islam in comments he made on Twitter.

Fazil Say, who has played with the New York Philharmonic, the Berlin Symphony Orchestra and others, is on trial in Istanbul for sending tweets that included one that joked about a call to prayer that lasted only 22 seconds.

Say tweeted: "Why such haste? Have you got a mistress waiting or a raki on the table?" Raki is a traditional alcoholic drink made with aniseed. Islam forbids alcohol and many Islamists consider the remarks unacceptable.

Prosecutors in June charged Say with inciting hatred and public enmity, and with insulting "religious values." He faces a maximum 18 months prison term, although any sentence is likely to be suspended.

Say, who has served as a cultural ambassador for the European Union, rejected the charges and demanded his acquittal, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency. The private Dogan news agency said the trial was adjourned until February 18.

The prosecution has caused anger among intellectuals in Turkey and escalated concerns over freedom of expression in the country.

Hundreds of his fans, supporters and human rights activists went to the courthouse in Istanbul in a show of solidarity, holding up signs that read: "Fazil Say is not alone" and "Free Art, Free World".

Say, 42, is a strong critic of the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a devout Muslim who has preached conservative values, alarming some secular Turks who fear the government plans to make religion part of their lifestyle.

Turkey has a history of persecuting its artists and writers, and the European Union has long encouraged the nation to improve freedom of speech if it wants to become a member of the bloc one day. In a report on Turkey's progress toward membership issued last week, the EU criticised Turkey for "recurring infringements of the right to liberty and security and to a fair trial, as well as of the freedom of expression." It said restrictions on media freedoms and an increasing number of court cases against writers and journalists remained "serious issues."

Egemen Bagis, the minister in charge of relations with the EU, suggested the case against Say should be dismissed saying the court should regard Say's tweets as being within "his right to babble." However, he criticised the pianist for "insulting people's faith and values."

fazilsay.com ( Fazil Say official website)

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