BISHKEK (TCA) — A court in Bishkek has freed a Kyrgyz journalist, Zulpukar Sapanov, who had been sentenced to four years in prison for a book he wrote, RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service reports.
The Bishkek City Court on September 29 changed Sapanov’s sentence to a suspended one, allowing the journalist to leave the courtroom.
The ruling came 17 days after a district court in Bishkek ruled that Sapanov’s book, Kydyr Sanjrasy (Kydyr’s Name Origin), contains content that “diminishes the role of Islam as a religion and creates a negative attitude toward Muslims.”
The book describes itself as a detailed study of pre-Islamic beliefs and ancient pagan traditions among the Kyrgyz people. When published last year, it was fiercely denounced by Kyrgyz religious leaders, who regarded it as an internationally-inspired attempt to destabilize the country.
Sapanov insists that his book aimed to compare traditional faiths and beliefs in Kyrgyzstan with pre-Islamic religions in other Turkic-speaking Central Asian countries.
The four-year sentence issued against Sapanov on September 12 sparked an outcry by rights defenders in Kyrgyzstan and abroad.
Kyrgyz Ombudsman Kubat Otorbaev called the September 12 ruling “a return to the time of inquisition.”
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said it was appalled by Sapanov’s four-year jail sentence for allegedly “inciting hatred between religious faiths” and called for his conviction to be overturned on appeal.
“Zulpukar Sapanov’s imprisonment sets a disturbing precedent for freedom of expression in Kyrgyzstan,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
Kyrgyzstan is ranked 89th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.