Press release

Turkey: Quash Twitter pianist sentence in honour of free speech

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16 Apr 2013



ARTICLE 19 condemns the sentencing  of a prominent Turkish pianist for comments he posted on Twitter. Fazil Say was given a 10 month suspended jail sentence by the 19th Criminal Court in Istanbul on April 15 2013 after being found guilty of violating Article 216 (3) of the Turkish Criminal Code, which prohibits  the ‘denigration of the religious values held by a section of society’.

“This sentence is in violation of the right to freedom of expression. People are entitled to pass comment, share views and make reference to debates which other people may find offensive, insulting or upsetting. It is vital that people are able to share thoughts and engage in public debates, including on issues concerning religion”, said Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

“The online world creates new opportunities for free speech. Increasingly however we are witnessing moves to regulate these spaces, censor legitimate speech and close down public discussion. Fazil Say’s conviction will have a dangerous chilling effect on free speech online in a country which already has a poor track record when it comes to freedom of expression” she added.

Say was charged in June 2012 by the Istanbul Public Prosecutor's Office after he posted a series of Tweets on Twitter in April of that year. He maintains that he did not insult Islam and merely retweeted a verse from a poem.

ARTICLE 19 is also concerned that there may be a political motivation behind Say’s conviction. Say has openly identified himself as an atheist and is a prominent critic of the current government, lead by the AKP (Justice & Development Party).

While the right to freedom of expression can be limited in narrow circumstances, including to protect against defamation or to protect national security or public order, international standards do not provide for restrictions on the basis of offended religious feelings.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Turkish government to ensure freedom of expression is protected online as well as off-line, and in this case to:

  • Overturn Fazil Say’s suspended prison sentence.
  • Revise Article 126 of the Criminal Code and bring it in line with international standards on free expression, including the European Convention of Human Rights, of which it is a signatory.