Kyrgyzstan: Popular Imam Gets 5-Year Jail Term
Oct 8, 2015
A court in the southern Kyrgyzstan town of Kara-Suu has sentenced a popular local imam to five years in prison on charges of inciting religious hatred and distributing extremist material.
The verdict delivered on the evening of October 7 marked the culmination of a four-month trial that Rashot Kamalov's lawyers regularly complained was marred by irregularities.
While accusations of extremism are not unusual in Kyrgyzstan, Kamalov has been the most prominent and influential religious to date to face prosecution for the offense. The imam's standing rests in great part on the reputation of his father, Rafik, a widely admired religious leader from Kara-Suu who was killed by Kyrgyz security forces in 2006.
Kamalov's defense team say they will appeal.
The imam was arrested on February 9 following a raid on his home by armed special operations forces. Police found a disk during their search that contained a video recording of a sermon delivered by Kamalov at Kara-Suu's As-Sarakhsi Mosque during Friday prayers on July 4, 2014.
Prosecutors said the sermon contained an exhortation to create a caliphate.
Against the backdrop of unrest in the Middle East provoked in part by the military campaigns of the Islamic State radical group, which claims to have founded a modern-day caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq, the accusations were incendiary.
But throughout his trial, Kamalov repeatedly denied he was seeking to whip up unrest and said his sermon was only explanatory in nature. The imam has also been a public critic of Islamic State and is on record as telling people in Kara-Suu to prevent their children from going to Syria to fight.
For the authorities, the Kamalov case is part of a broader rearguard battle against a perceived surge in a radical Islamic beliefs in parts of the country. People close to Kamalov have also suggested the trial might have been reprisal for the imam's criticism of local security services. Kamalov has suggested that harassment of devout Muslims by officials has had a counterproductive effect and is fanning the flames of radicalization.