18 years for attempted assassination of Uzbek imam
A man from Uzbekistan has been sentenced to 18 years in prison after attempting to kill an imam in Strömsund, northern Sweden, in 2012, reports Swedish Radio News. The imam was critical of the Uzbek regime.
The prosecutor, however, had pushed for the man to get a life sentence.
"I think that is appropriate when one comes here on assignment from another state purely to carry out an execution," the chief prosecutor Krister Petersson told news agency TT.
But based on the evidence, the court could not say with certainty whether the Uzbek state was involved. "What can be stated with certainty, though, is only that (the man) committed a crime for someone else," the court wrote, continuing, "who exactly it was that gave him this assignment can't be established with certainty in this case."
Steve Swerdlow, the director of Human Rights Watch's office in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, told Radio Sweden, "This verdict is extremely important, because it brings to light the serious human rights crisis inside Uzbekistan, as well as a political assassination attempt on a very important figure from Uzbekistan, which occurred in Europe."
Swerdlow went on to say, "In some ways it's really a call to action to address the abysmal situation inside Uzbekistan, which as we see has far-reaching implications, far beyond its borders into a small Swedish community."
On February 22, 2012, the imam, 54, was shot in the back of his head in a stairwell in Strömsund, in Jämtland. He suffered injuries to his brain but survived. He was one of the toughest critics of the Uzbek dictatorship, and in 2006, was granted asylum in Sweden. The Swedish intelligence service, Säpo, has come under fire for underestimating the danger that the imam was in, and for not having informed the local police about his situation.
An Uzbek couple in their 30s had been accused of tracking down the imam for the man to assassinate, but they were acquitted because there was no evidence that they had known about the murder plan.
The man who has now been sentenced for attempting the assassination was arrested in January this year in Russia, at the request of Swedish authorities, and extradited to Sweden this summer. Today's ruling includes a provision for the man to be deported to Uzbekistan after serving the sentence. He maintains that he is innocent.
The man's lawyer told news agency TT that he will appeal today's court decision.