BISHKEK (TCA) — A court in Kyrgyzstan has found a journalist guilty of inciting religious hatred in a book, and sentenced him to four years in prison, RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service reports.
The Birinchi Mai district court in Bishkek ruled on September 12 that Zulpukar 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.”
Sapanov’s wife, Gulbarchyn Ibraeva, told RFE/RL that the sentence will be appealed. Sapanov pleaded not guilty and called the charge against him “unacceptable.” He insisted that experts who evaluated the content of his book were not professionals.
Sapanov said he tried to compare in his book the traditional faiths and beliefs of the Kyrgyz nation and that of other Turkic-speaking nomadic nations of the Eurasian steppes in pre-Islamic times.
He also said that his book’s goal was to find ways to unite the Kyrgyz people with all Turkic-speaking nations through their common history.
Sapanov’s supporters say he should be protected by the Kyrgyz Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of faith.
In recent months, authorities in Kyrgyzstan have targeted independent, opposition-minded media outlets by accusing them of insulting the country’s president. Kyrgyz courts have ruled that such media outlets should pay huge fines, which would lead to their closure.