Islamic playwright Mehmet Vehi Yazar was sentenced Aug. 4 by a Turkish court to 24 years in prison. His offense was a play that allegedly ridiculed the nation's military forces, according to Reuters. Four members of the play's cast were also sentenced to jail terms.
The play, An Enemy of God, was performed in 1997 in the eastern Turkish province of Erzurum. According to authorities, the drama urged a revolt against the reigning secularist, military government in favor of one based of Islamic Sharia law. Turkish armed forces have been rigorously pursuing a crackdown of Islamic elements, contended they pose a threat to Turkey's secularist constitution.
The court said the playwright was guilty of "provoking hatred by highlighting class, racial or religious difference between people."
It's been a bad year for freedom of speech in the international theatre community. In May, New York's Manhattan Theatre Club nearly canceled (but since reinstated) Terrence McNally's new play Corpus Christi after Catholic groups protested its depiction of a gay, Jesus-like figure. Soon after, government officials in Shanghai prevented the appearance of the Chinese opera The Peony Pavilion at the Lincoln Center Festival 98, claiming the opera was demeaning to Chinese culture.
In June, the producers of the Indian play Nathuram Godse Speaks were forced to cancel a production when hundreds of angry protesters gathered outside the theatre. The crowd claimed the play celebrated Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi, one of the nation's founders. The drama has also been assailed in newspapers and the Indian Parliament. -- By Robert Simonson