The acclaimed composer and pianist Fazil Say said Monday that he was turning his back on his native Turkey and would live in exile in Japan after becoming disillusioned by the rise of conservative Islam.
In an interview with the Hurriyet daily, Say spoke of how he felt completely ostracized by Turkish society since he declared that he was an atheist and that the criticism he had received had highlighted a growing culture of intolerance.
“I think it’s time for me to move to Japan,” Say told the daily.
“When I said that I was an atheist, everyone insulted me and the legal authorities jumped on everything that I wrote on Twitter. I am perhaps the first person anywhere in the world to be the object of a judicial inquiry for declaring that they are an atheist.”
The multiple award-winning artist, who is a culture ambassador for the European Union, has drawn the ire of conservatives in Turkey with a series of provocative tweets about Islam.
A senior lawmaker for the ruling AKP party, Samil Tayyar, has called Say a “son of a whore” and the composer now fears that he could end up behind bars.
“If I am sentenced to prison, my career will be finished,” said Say, 41.
Under Turkish law, anyone convicted of insulting religious values can be sentenced to between three months and one year in prison.
Turkey is an officially secular country but the AKP, which has been in power since 2002, has strong Islamist roots.