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Kyrgyz Presidential Candidate Says Extremism Sentences 'Cruel'

Almazbek Atambaev
Almazbek Atambaev
An opposition Kyrgyz presidential candidate says the recent sentencing of 32 people for religious extremism is an act of "lawlessness and despotism," RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports.

In a statement, Almazbek Atambaev said that the citizens of the town of Nookat had an absolute right to demand that local officials allow them to mark the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr in October.

They were later accused of religious extremism and organizing an unsanctioned mass gathering.

On November 27, the Osh Regional Court sentenced the defendants to prison terms ranging from nine to 20 years.

The Kyrgyz Supreme Court last week upheld the verdicts but reduced the sentences to between five and 17 years.

The defendants complained that they were severely beaten and tortured while in detention.

Atambaev especially criticized the prosecutor in the case, who said at the trial that the phrase "Allah Akbar!" (God is great!) is criminal and unconstitutional. Atambaev says every Muslim starts his/her prayers and ends it with these words.

He said such "senseless accusations and cruel verdicts demonstrate the willingness of the current Kyrgyz government to establish a police state in the country."