Content Regulation / Censorship, National Security
The Sunday Times v. United Kingdom (No. 2)
Closed Contracts Expression
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Bulat Zhakpbaevich Satkangulov, an ISIS supporter, was charged with propagating terrorism, public incitement of terrorist activities, and the creation and storage of materials with the purpose of dissemination for the above listed purposes. In general, the court found that justification or arguments in support of terrorist activities equated the dissemination of terrorism propaganda.
In February 2015, he contacted several of his friends after learning that they were critical of ISIS and Al-Baghdadi. Over a period of a few weeks, Satkangulov attempted to change his friends’ opinions on ISIS. They had several arguments over WhatsApp and the phone on the topic. During the conversations, he never directly urged his friends to join ISIS nor incited violence.
The Prosecutor General charged Satkangulov with propaganda of terrorism using mass communication platforms. Satkangulov denied the charges. An expert commission qualified his statements to be propaganda of terrorism. On this basis, the court sentenced him to six years in prison and ordered all property under his name to be forfeited.
Bulat Zhakpbaevich Satkangulov was a salesman in a provincial city. In 2005, he began attending his local mosque for Friday prayers and changed his habits to be what he considered more observant of Islam. Around 2011, he began praying in the style different from the traditional Kazakh Salafism. Soon after, he stopped attending the mosque. In the spring of 2015, he returned to the mosque and other attendees noted that he began to openly criticize Kazakhstan’s traditional Islam, which hinted that he may become a takfirist (a Muslim who calls other Muslims infidels).
In February 2015, Satkangulov called his friend, Adilov S.A., to discuss Adilov’s criticism of ISIS in a WhatsApp group. Adilov belonged to a WhatsApp group that discussed Saudi religious scholarship, some of which was critical of ISIS and Al-Baghdadi. Satkangulov found out about Adilov’s statement and called Adilov to defend ISIS. He argued that the Saudi scholars were wrong to criticize ISIS; that its members’ actions were justified; that it freed territory from Israel; that it was a strong nation with a large territory and a caliph; that Al-Baghdadi was a caliph; that Muslims were sometimes justified in killing each other; that the anti-ISIS military coalition was a Western crusaders creation; that all Muslims should support ISIS; and that those who do not support ISIS are women, among many other comments. He never urged his friends to join ISIS or travel to Syria or Iraq to fight.
Satkangulov discussed his conversation with Adilov with two other friends, Baizhanov and Akhmadiyarov, and also defended ISIS to them.
Around February, Satkangulov also called Korkenbaev, a friend of eight years, asking about his opinion on ISIS. Korkenbaev said that ISIS violated the laws of Islam for its own purposes. Satkangulov disagreed, arguing that those whom ISIS executes are not Muslims and even if they were, the executions did not violate Islam.
In July 2015, on suspicion of Satkangulov being an extremist, his apartment was searched. During the search, his wife tossed his laptop out of the window. The police found the broken laptop and extracted various video and audio files of an extremist fashion, including: “Yes, ISIS is a Caliphate, Part 1”; “Caliphate Nadir Abu Khalid in Syria on Jihad”; and “The Traitors of Ummah,” among several others.
Police investigators also found emails between Satkangulov and unidentified individuals from whom he requested videos containing extremist videos deleted from YouTube or VKontakte, Russia’s social network.
Satkangulov was charged under Kazakhstan’s Criminal Code, article 256, paragraph 2 that penalizes propaganda of terrorism, public incitement of terrorist activities, and creation, and storage of materials with the purpose of dissemination, or dissemination of materials for the above listed purpose.
Satkangulov denied the charges.
First, the court of first instance outlined the relevant facts of the case and introduced conclusions of an expert review of Satkangulov’s statements. The review was conducted by an unspecified commission of experts who found that:
The conclusions underwent an additional psycho-philological assessment by a linguist who confirmed them. The court ruled that it had no reason to question the expert’s conclusions.
On the basis of the expert conclusions, the court defined propaganda of terrorism as:
Further, the court, citing a Russian dictionary authored by Ozhegov and Shvedov, defined propaganda as public dissemination of various perspectives, ideas, knowledge and teachings. The court defined the aim of propaganda as an attempt to force a listener to believe in the truth of what is being said.
Lastly, the court equated justification of terrorist activities to propaganda of terrorism.
Therefore, the court ruled that, in his conversations with friends, Satkangulov justified ISIS’s activities and the necessity of armed jihad, thus committing propaganda of terrorism.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The ruling has significant implications on freedom of expression and the ability to engage in counter speech against radical ideology. Here, Satkangulov supported ISIS and its radical form of Islam. He defended it to his friends, who were critical of it. Yes, he engaged in the conversation first. However, the fact that he suggested that his friend’s opinions mattered to him demonstrates that his friends might have had a chance to help him via their counter speech.
The government should allow such conversations for their potential to de-radicalize. However, the severe punishment, including forfeiture of property, will likely lead to further radicalization of Satkangulov.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.