A court in Kyrgyzstan has doubled the prison sentence handed down to a popular imam who was earlier this year found guilty of inciting religious hatred and distributing extremist material.
Rights advocacy group Bir Duino said Osh provincial court on November 24 increased Rashot Kamalov’s punishment to 10 years in a high-security facility. A local court in the southern town of Kara-Suu, where Kamalov served as imam of As-Sarakhsi mosque, passed a five-year sentence in October.
The harsher sentence appears to have been by motivated the Osh court’s decision to restore a charge of abuse of office dropped in earlier proceedings.
Lawyers for Kamalov have said they will pursue a further appeal in the Supreme Court.
The severity of the punishment is bound to fan discontent among Kamalov’s numerous supporters in Kara-Suu. The imam’s trial, which lawyers complained was marred by numerous irregularities, was loyally attended by Kamalov’s most devoted parishioners.
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 the As-Sarakhsi Mosque during Friday prayers on July 4, 2014.
Prosecutors have argued that Kamalov’s references to the caliphate in his sermons constituted support for the activities of radical and violent Islamists in the Middle East.
An unknown number of people from Kyrgyzstan, including from Kara-Suu, are said to have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the ranks of radical Islamist groups fighting there.
Despite an absence of transparent and convincing evidence that the Islamic State group is actively establishing a presence in Kyrgyzstan, authorities have been eager to claim that the terrorist organization has made inroads.
Against that backdrop, religious figures straying from government-approved strictures are viewed with intense suspicion.
Kamalov’s supporters have also suggested his predicament may have been precipitated by his disagreements with local branches of the security services. Kamalov is said to have caused irritation by suggesting that harassment of devout Muslims by security agency and police officers in southern Kyrgyzstan has had a counterproductive effect and is fanning the flames of radicalization.