A Turkish pianist is facing prison time for anti-Muslim tweets, raising questions over the state of religious and Internet freedoms in less than secular countries.
Fazil Say, a virtuoso pianist and composer, faces an investigation over tweeting remarks considered offensive to Muslims, Christians and Jews. Say used Twitter to question whether Islamic heaven is like a brothel or a pub, citing Qu’ranic verses that describe rivers of drinks and beautiful women for those admitted to paradise.
He also tweeted about a muezzin who recited the evening call to prayer in under 30 seconds, surmising the religious man was either impatient to see his lover or get drunk on a beverage called raki.
Say may have been joking about his disregard for religion, but Turkey’s authorities are not laughing.
As Turkish Penal Code specifies, “Anyone who openly denigrates the religious values of a part of the population shall be sentenced to imprisonment of from six months to one year, where the act is sufficient to breach public peace.”
Say’s case is still pending and he may escape with only fines, but other social media dissenters in countries with strict religious rules have not been so lucky.
In Syria, Palestine and Jordan, for example, “Many cases of arrests are reported based on declarations on social media networks,” according to Ayman Mhanna, director of the SKeyes center for media and cultural freedom in the Middle East.
In such cases, Mhanna observes, “judicial authorities haven’t shown much leniency to ‘unorthodox’ messages.”
This is true in Kuwait, where writer Mohammed Al-Mulaifi just sentenced to seven years’ hard labor in prison for allegedly slandering Shi’ites on his Twitter account.
Two Tunisians face a similar sentence for posting “blasphemous” content online, while a 23-year-old in Jeddha endured death threats this February amid a public outcry over his tweets about the Prophet.
Hamza Kashgari, a Saudi citizen who fled to Malaysia after tweeting against religion, was recently extradited and awaits a possible death penalty for his actions.
And even Egyptian telecom magnate Naguib Sawiris faces a trial for tweeting a picture of Mickey and Minnie Mouse clad in Islamic garb. He intended to joke that even cartoon characters will have to wear the veil if Islamists take power.
Still, not all Islamic countries prohibit anti-religious remarks on social media sites, as Afghanis proved with their recent outcry against the country’s top religious council.
After authorities in that country suggested men and women remain separated at school and work for religious reasons, angry women took to Facebook and Twitter labeling the statement “outrageous” and demanding, “How dare the religious council decide about our faith?”
But Afghanistan appears to be the exception among non-secular countries in allowing online opposition to religion. Most religiously-influenced governments appear to view social media posts against the establishment as utterly unacceptable.