Kyrgyzstan has a population of 6 million people. According to official estimates, 90% of the population are Sunni Muslims. 7% of the population is Christian, mostly ethnic Russians. Other smaller groups including Jews, Buddhists, and followers of the indigenous religion Tengrism make up 3% of the population. Non-Muslim religious groups live mainly in major cities.
After the post-election protests in October 2020, Sadyr Japarov was freed from prison and became president. Japarov’s base is described as nationalistic, and his rise to power in late 2020 and the April Constitution mark an authoritarian shift in one of the more democratic former Soviet republics in Central Asia. Among his first decisions were ordering educators and the media to promote “traditional” moral, family, and spiritual values. During his candidacy, he promised to introduce Islamic education in Kyrgyz schools.
Article 10 of the Constitution (4)” For the purpose of protection of younger generation of action, contradicting moral and moral values, public consciousness of the people of the Kyrgyz Republic, can be limited to the law.”
Reports show a deteriorating climate for freedom of expression, ARTICLE 19 criticized the recent legislation and restrictions on freedom of expression on grounds such as public morality, outlawing libel, or hate speech and extremism.
Multiple former Soviet Union states’ laws conflate the language of incitement to hatred with blasphemy. The language leans towards the prosecution of blasphemy in Kyrgyzstan.
The Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations (2008), criminalizes “intentional offense of the feelings of citizens in relation to their religion”. Article 4 reads as follows:
“The limitation of rights or establishment of any privileges of citizens dependent upon their attitude toward religion, as well as the incitement of enmity and hatred, or the intentional offense of the feelings of citizens in connection with their attitude towards religion, the desecration of sacred or other religious cult objects, entails liabilities in accordance with the legislation of the Kyrgyz Republic.”
No sanction is defined in the written law, however, one man was sentenced to 4 years in prison in 2017 (see more information below).
In 2017, writer and journalist Zulpukar Sapanov was initially sentenced to four years in prison for inciting religious hatred in his book entitled Kydyr Sanjyrasy (Genealogy of the Forefather Kydyr). Sapanov describes the book as a detailed study of pre-Islamic beliefs and ancient pagan traditions among the Kyrgyz people. However, according to the judge, the book “downplays Islam’s role as a religion and fosters a negative attitude towards Muslims”. At the time of publication, it was fiercely denounced by Kyrgyz religious leaders.
“maybe Kydyr is the true God and Allah is Satan?” -Sapanov
A panel of religious “experts” reviewed Sapanov’s book and requested that Sapanov be placed under investigation. He initially received a sentence of four years in prison for allegedly “inciting hatred between religious faiths.” At an appeal hearing, the court reduced Sapanov’s sentence to a suspended two-year jail term and freed him at the end of the hearing.
“We welcome the release of Zulpukar Sapanov, who should never have been imprisoned just for tackling the highly sensitive subject of religious pluralism in Kyrgyzstan,” –Reporters Without Borders.