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Turkish pianist Fazil Say could serve jail time for tweets he sent about Islam referring to an 11th Century poem and mocking the Muslim call to prayer. 

Say's sentence of a 10-month suspended jail term was issued today in Istanbul, the New York Times's Sebnem Arsu reported. Say will have to serve that sentence if he commits what is deemed  another offense in a five-year period. The case, which Can Sezer and Ece Toksabay of Reuters called a "cause celebre," has ignited fears about the ruling party in the country's stance on freedom of expression. 

Say, who went on trial last October, according to The Guardian, commented about Muslims' relationship to alcohol in his tweets. In one instance he retweeted a verse from a poem by 11th century Persian poet Omar Khayyám: "You say rivers of wine flow in heaven, is heaven a tavern to you? You say two huris [companions] await each believer there, is heaven a brothel to you?" Say also joked about a mosque's call to prayer: "The muezzin finished the evening prayers in 22 seconds ... Why are you in such hurry? A lover? A raki table?" Raki is a popular Turkish alcohol. 

In emailed statements to Reuters Say said he is less concerned about himself than he is for the country: "The fact I've been convicted for an offence I didn't commit is less worrying for me personally than it is for freedom of expression and faith in Turkey." Per Reuters, that party, the AK Party of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, has "roots in Islamist politics." Though Erdogan has led the country to what Reuters calls "unprecedented prosperity," opponents wonder at what cost to the secularism of the state. Say identifies as an atheist. 

The case is also notable, Arsu of the Times reported, for the role social media played. Though artists and intellectuals have been challenge for comments about Islam recently, in this case the prominence of social media is unusual. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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