October 19, 2012 10:32:43 AM
ISTANBUL -- A top Turkish pianist and composer appeared in court on Thursday to defend himself against charges 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 for sending tweets that included one in April 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.
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.
The trial was adjourned until Feb. 18 and the musician was granted the right not to appear at subsequent court hearings due to his concert schedules.
On Thursday, 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 criticized the pianist for "insulting people's faith and values."
The charges against Say also cite other tweets he sent, including one which questioned whether heaven was a tavern or a brothel, because of the promises that wine will flow and each believer will be greeted by virgins.
Say has since closed his Twitter account and has said he plans to leave Turkey for Japan. His lawyer said Say has received some death threats.