RSF calls for release of Kyrgyzstan journalist jailed for ‘inciting religious hatred’

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BISHKEK (TCA) — Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says it is appalled by Kyrgyzstan journalist Zulpukar Sapanov’s four-year jail sentence for allegedly “inciting hatred between religious faiths” in a book about pre-Islamic beliefs in Kyrgyzstan and calls for his conviction to be overturned on appeal.

Although Kyrgyzstan boasts of being an island of free speech in Central Asia, a court in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, passed the sentence on 12 September. The judges said the book “downplays Islam’s role as a religion and fosters a negative attitude towards Muslims”.

Entitled “Kydyr Sanzhyrasy,” 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.

It was at their request that Sapanov was placed under investigation on suspicion of violating article 299 of the criminal code. The investigation was carried out by the State Committee of National Security (GKNB), which searched his home in February.

“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. “We condemn his conviction and call on the courts to release him without delay.”

During the trial, Sapanov said the evaluations of his book by the independent expert commissioned by the court were not serious analyses. He has filed an appeal.

Sapanov’s imprisonment has reinforced concerns about media freedom violations, which have been getting more and more frequent in the run-up to next month’s presidential election, RSF said.

Kyrgyzstan is ranked 89th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

Sergey Kwan

TCA