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Turkish criminal court sentences pianist for insulting Islam on Twitter

The Istanbul 19th criminal court convicted well-known Turkish pianist Fazil Say [personal website] on Monday for insulting Islam and inciting hatred. Say was given a suspended 10-month sentence [Hurriyet Daily News report]. The controversial case focused on several comments Say made through Twitter [media website]. Say's lawyers contend that Say did not intend to insult religion and that he made no open call to violence. The court was unconvinced and hinged their decision on the public forum Say used to share his opinions. The court suspended the sentence and allowed Say to remain free, but he will be subjected to prison time if he commits a similar offense within five years.

Say's conviction has incited reactions from artists and human rights groups around the world. Turkish author Elif Safak [media profile] responded to Say's conviction on Twitter, saying "I am deeply surprised and saddened to hear about the sentence given to well-known pianist Fazil Say." Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] released a statement [press release] last month that said "the right to freedom of expression is under attack in Turkey. Hundreds of abusive prosecutions are brought against activists, journalists, writers and lawyers. It is one of Turkey's most entrenched human rights problems." Similar cases have arisen over the last year. In December Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged [JURIST report] a top Saudi court to drop charges against Raif Badawi who faced the death penalty for insulting Islam on his website Free Saudi Liberals. In June a Kuwait court sentenced [JURIST report] a man to 10 years in prison for defaming the Prophet Muhammad [BBC backgrounder] and the Sunni Muslim rulers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on his Twitter profile.

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