A court in Kyrgyzstan has released a writer previously jailed on charges of incitement to religious hatred, downgrading his four-year jail term to a suspended sentence.
The Bishkek city court ruling on September 29 means Zulpukar Sapanov will go free, but will have to serve out a two-year suspended sentence.
Earlier in the month, Sapanov was found guilty of having offended religious sensibilities in his historical treatise, Kydyr Sanzhyrasy, or “Genealogy of the Forefather Kydyr,” which proposed that Allah was a demon and that the Kyrgyz people were descended from the likely mythical holy man after whom the book is named.
When Kydyr Sanzhyrasy was first published, with a print run of around 1,000 copies, it drew negligible attention. Outrage only broke out when excerpts were republished in some local Kyrgyz-language newspapers, which drew the anger of representatives at the country’s mainstream Islamic authority, the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kyrgyzstan, or DUMK.
DUMK demanded that the security services, or GKNB, bring Sapanov to justice for what they deemed his demeaning assertions. A spokesman for DUMK, Maksat Atabayev, insisted that calling Kydyr a deity, as argued by Sapanov, was a “big sin.”
Following the official complaint, GKNB agents raided Sapanov’s apartment, where they confiscated 900 copies of his book, a smartphone and a laptop computer.
Adil Turdukulov, head of the Bishkek-based Committee for the Protection of Freedom of Speech, said that while the downgrading of Sapanov’s punishment was to be welcomed, there are no grounds to support the argument that the writer incited religious hatred.
“In his books, Sapanov simply raises some controversial issues and poses some important questions on religious matters,” Turdukulov told EurasiaNet.org.
Turdukulov said he is certain the security services did not even study the content of Sapanov’s book.
“The GKNB is regularly accused of persecuting religious people, so now they have decided to balance things out by showing that they are also prepared to persecute those who question religion. But the GKNB did not try to obtain testimonies from experts on religion … and instead they simply relied on those religious activists accusing Sapanov,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sapanov said he is unfazed by his trial and that he intends to continue his journalistic work at Kyrgyz-language newspaper De Fakto.
“It is not for me to decide whether the trial was fair or not. God willing I will continue to have my work published,” he said.