An Istanbul court on Friday ordered a retrial for a world-renowned pianist, Fazil Say, sentenced earlier this month to 10 months in prison for blasphemy over social media posts, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.
The decision, approving an appeal request by Say, cancels the jail term handed down on April 15 for allegedly inciting religious hatred and insulting Islamic values in a series of tweets he posted last year.
The original conviction and sentence drew international criticism of Turkey’s record on freedom of expression.
The higher Istanbul court overturned the previous verdict due to “procedural flaws,” saying that the pianist was denied permission to appeal the sentence.
A date for a new hearing has not yet been set, Anatolia said.
The 43-year-old virtuoso, who has played with the philharmonic orchestras of Berlin, New York, Tokyo and Israel, was prosecuted for a series of tweets criticizing Muslims.
One of them said: “I am not sure if you have also realized it, but all the pricks, low-lives, buffoons, thieves, jesters, they are all Allahists. Is this a paradox?”
Another tweet which prosecutors say explicitly insulted religious values, questions why a call to prayer was so short.
“The muezzin [traditional Muslim prayer leader] finished the evening prayers in 22 seconds ... Why are you in such a hurry? A lover? A raki table?” he tweeted, referring to Turkish strong alcoholic drink.
The high-profile case has irked secular Turks, who are worried about what they see a creeping Islamic conservatism in the predominantly Muslim country.
Say has accused the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), whose roots are in Islam, of being behind the case against him.
The case has also stoked fears of growing restrictions on freedom of expression in a country which has long sought to join the EU.
Dozens of journalists are in detention in Turkey, as well as lawyers, politicians and lawmakers — most of them accused of plotting against the government or having links with the outlawed Kurdish rebel movement the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Critics accuse Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government of using courts to silence dissenting voices.
Since coming to power in 2002, Erdogan has also sought to diminish the power of Turkey’s military, the self-appointed guardian of the secular state which carried out four coups between 1960 and 1997.
In September last year, more than 300 retired and active military officers were sentenced to jail for plotting to topple Erdogan’s government and hundreds more are still behind bars awaiting trial.