Squeezed onto narrow benches in an airless courtroom in a provincial town in southern Kyrgyzstan, dozens of men from Imam Rashot Kamalov’s congregation looked bewildered as a disorderly hearing unfolded.
Kamalov stood silent in the defendant’s cage as his lawyers pleaded helplessly for a fair hearing on the charges of inciting religious hatred and disseminating extremist materials. At a hearing on August 4 in Kara-Suu, the presiding judge summarily dismissed witnesses hoping to speak on Kamalov’s behalf, and ignored expert testimony presented by the defense team.
The accusations against the 37-year-old imam of Kara-Suu’s As-Sarakhsi Mosque are not unusual for Kyrgyzstan. But Kamalov is a prominent and hugely popular religious authority. His stature ensures that his trial is a landmark in a crackdown on independent Muslim voices.
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Peter Leonard is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.