Published On: Sat, May 4th, 2013

Hate Speech Will Not Go Unpunished


By Ece Koç*

Morocco News Tribune

The three Abrahamic religions share the same core values and principles as they were all sent to mankind by Allah. It is the requirement of these religions and the modern world we are living in today that people’s religious beliefs and choices are respected and protected. Indeed, many countries have laws in place to ensure that religious liberties are protected and no one intervenes with another person’s religious choices.

It must be noted that particularly in the United States, religious liberties are given great importance in the American Constitution. Clearly, such liberties do not give anyone the right to insult, or attack the religious values of another; on the contrary, they require and ensure that everybody is respected for their beliefs and choices, be it believers or atheists.

However, in recent years, some extremists have emerged with a sinister plan to deliberately insult Islam. The first attack in this wave of hatred was the Danish cartoon, followed by the alleged movie about our Prophet Mohammed (pbuh). Obviously, such attempts are futile and will not achieve their goals. On the contrary, they will only make people want to learn more about Islam. Many of these extremists have forgotten one of the lessons of early Christian history: The more the early Church was persecuted in Ancient Rome, the more adherents it drew. Persecution simply serves to increase interest in the object of persecution. Thus, the attempts to ridicule Islam and belittle Muslims have, in the long run, the entirely opposite effect.

Then recently, the Turkish pianist Fazıl Say committed the crime of “openly denigrating religious values” (Turkish Penal Code 216/3) and a criminal case against him was initiated in Istanbul’s Criminal Court of Peace No. 19. The case resulted in him being convicted. However, he recently appealed to the higher court. Thus, the case is still under evaluation.

This case has been and is still being covered widely in the mainstream media, with mostly misleading information. These newspapers and comments usually claim that the things he said which got him sentenced were actually quoted from the 11th Century Iranian poet Omar Khayyam and that Fazıl Say was merely repeating this poet’s statements. Although this is not true, as there is far more to it than that, the fact still remains that repeating an insult is still a crime according to the Turkish laws.

However, that is not the real reason why Fazil Say was convicted. He was convicted because he insulted believers with extremely offensive words. The court did not even refer to that poem, but only to the offensive statements he uttered in his tweets targeting faithful Muslims. This fact should be known by everyone, so that the media frenzy claiming that he is being prosecuted for no reason can finally come to an end.

There were also some attempts to downplay the actions of Fazil Say’s, suggesting that what he did was merely posting a few insignificant lines on his Twitter account, which cannot be further from the truth. The words that brought him to the courts are below. As anyone can see, they are far from trivial or unimportant. He admitted that he wrote those phrases, which I hold Allah and all the Islamic values beyond:

Wherever there is jagoff, (a) cheap-jack, (a) thief, (a) jester, all are Allahist”, “Is Heaven a barrel house, is Heaven a whorehouse?” “God.. is it something for which you’ll become an animal and kill?”, “(The) Muezzin (person who calls for prayer) recited the azan (Islamic call for prayer) in 22 seconds… what’s the rush, dear? Is it the raki* table?

*raki: an anise-flavored alcoholic drink popular in Turkey

Another misleading piece of information frequently seen – both in the Western and Turkish Media – is that he shouldn’t be convicted because his words should be considered within the scope of the freedom of thought. That is also incorrect because mFazil Say was not convicted for his thought or ideas but for the stream of insults he made targeting believers. People should know that his conviction has nothing to do with freedom of speech: Freedom of speech is not the freedom to insult. He could have said, and has already said, that he doesn’t believe in Allah (Allah is beyond that), or that he doesn’t believe in religion. No one would object to that, nor would anyone would be offended by that as it is his choice and everybody is free to make their own choices. However hurling insults at someone is completely different and cannot be tolerated or allowed. This distinction must be made very clearly. Therefore the mainstream should stop misleading people with such notions trying to create the image that his actions weren’t such a big thing. In any event, the “freedom” to defame another person is banned not only by Turkish law but by international laws as well. Even though there has been attempts to show this case as a threat to freedom of thought in Turkey, those attempts failed as they didn’t have any truth to them. Firstly because, as I said above, insults cannot be considered freedom of thought and secondly, all the developed countries safeguard religious values from insults with strict codes. To cite some examples, the Article 261 of the Swiss Penal Code, Article 282 of the Russian Federation Penal Code, Articles 130 and 131 of the German Penal Code, Articles 510, 511, 512, 513, 514, 515, 516, 517, 518, 519 520 and 521 of the Spanish Penal Code are just a few of those. These articles quite explicitly prohibit people from defaming another person’s religious beliefs.

Furthermore, the European Court of Human Rights has in many cases convicted people for defaming religious values. In one of these rulings, the publication of complaint was a novel, and in the other a film. The novel included comments about Islam and our Prophet, while the film contained scenes and passages defaming the Prophet Jesus, and the ECHR approved the local court rulings in both cases.

Another ruling contained the following words:

The freedom of thought and expression in Paragraph 2 of Article 10 entails “various duties and responsibilities;” among these are the need to avoid terms and behavior constituting disrespect by conduct or remark that might harm others when freedom of religion and belief is involved.”

With the intervention in subject, the ECHR has concluded that the precautionary measures taken are “intended to protect various elements regarded as sacred by Muslims in the face of a ‘social need’.”

The ECHR records that the national judicial authorities’ justifications were sufficient, that the measures they took regarding the appellant were appropriate and that the officials did not overstep their authority.”

With regard to the proportionality of the measures taken, the ECHR records the national judicial authorities did not decide to have all copies of the book in question seized and that the financial penalty imposed was reasonable in the light of the intended aims. Article 10 of the ECHR has not been violated.”

(ECHR “Forbidden Clauses” Ruling)

Clearly, the ECHR ratified local court rulings in such cases and makes it clear that they cannot be considered as a part of the freedom of expression, stating that Article 10 of the ECHR about freedom of expression has not been violated.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court of Appeals had many previous rulings to the effect that defamation and denigration is an offense.

The United States has also issued rulings to the effect that defamation and denigration of Islam is an offense. This has appeared in the press on many occasions.

Similar rulings on the subject of denigration of religious values and Muslims have also come from Europe and appeared in the press in recent times. For example, Austrian Deputy Susanne Winter made a speech denigrating religious values, as a result of which her Membership of Parliament was suspended, an inquiry was opened, followed by the bringing of criminal charges. She was found guilty and the verdict was confirmed by higher courts.

In the same way, Danish Deputy Jesper Langballe also insulted religion in a speech. His Membership of Parliament was also suspended and an inquiry was initiated. Criminal charges were brought, and he was convicted in the case.

Another very interesting side of the story is that Fazıl Say is well-known for the lawsuits he has filed against others who said anything that could even slightly offend him; he is quite litigious. He has sued many celebrities because he felt that their statements were disrespectful to him. Turkish singer Ercan Saatçi, singer Müslüm Gürses, singer Hülya Avşar, Ömür Kabak, who is the İzmir office chairman of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) are some of the well-known people whom Fazil Say has sued in the past, claiming that their words were violating his personal rights.

I should make it clear that I am a very fervent supporter of freedom of speech and freedom of thought. However, at the same time, I am completely against any offensive, derogatory remarks against any other human being on the basis of his choices of faith. The fact that this individual  is a musician does not give him the right to insult others. On the contrary, the artists, the musicians, the singers of a country should give messages of love, friendship, and peace and be role model for their fans and the public alike.

*Ece Koç is a graduate of the University of Istanbul, where she studied economics. She is Executive Director of the NGO “Building Bridges.” She organizes and interviews foreign delegations/guests for the program; she’s also a guest columnist and blogger. Additionally, she’s an International Affairs coordinator, and has organized and attended major interfaith conferences in her official capacity such as the Second Istanbul World Political Forum, the 21st Congress of the Union of Islamic Communities, The First International Balkan Conference, the Istanbul World Forum, and Science for Peace.


  • Ceren Ataman

    Latest article by Ece Koç posted on Morocco News Tribune regarding hate speech deserves to be read.

  • Mohammad Khursheed Akram

    A very good article regarding hate speech by Ece Koc. There is a message of universal peace and love in this article. The efforts of Ece Koc must be appreciated for establishing peace among the folllowers of The Three Abrahamic Religions .

  • julea bacall

    There is NO insult Law in USA.
    Only for inciting violence.