Defendant in Bulgaria's 'Imam' Trial Stirs Outrage
The Thursday session in Bulgaria's notorious radical Islam and religious hatred case started out scandalously over the attitude of one of the defendants.
Ahmed Mussa Ahmed refused to stand up when the presiding judge was entering the courtroom. He stated from his seat that he was a Muslim and shows respect only for Allah.
His own lawyer told media that this was a huge gaffe and demonstration of contempt for the Court.
Prosecution in the case has asked effective sentence for one of the thirteen defendants.
According to the prosecutor, the same person - the imam of the Roma quarter in the city of Pazardzhik, Ahmed Mussa Ahmed, must serve jail time for fraud; suspended sentences have been requested for the imam of Sarnitsa, Said Mutlu, and the Pazardzhik regional mufti, Abdullah Salih, on fraud charges.
Said's and Mutlu's spreading religious hatred charge was dismissed, the Bulgarian public radio BNR reported Thursday.
The trial reopened on Wednesday and is now in its final stage. The magistrates in the court in the southern city of Pazardzhik will hear the pleas of all defendants' lawyers.
Unlike previous sessions, when nationalists and supporters of the defendants clashed in front of the courthouse, the situation since Wednesday morning has been reported as calm.
The 13 defendants face up to five years in prison in a criminal trial, which is viewed abroad as a test for the limits of religious freedom and tolerance in the country. They all firmly claim innocence.
The trial endured a number of twists, mostly related to vague knowledge of judges of radical Islam and the accuracy of experts' translations of religious literature from Arabic to Bulgarian.
Experts have commented it would be extremely difficult to establish the level of accuracy of the translation. In addition, defense lawyers believe the designated experts were not competent enough.
Prosecutors say the Saudi-financed activities of the imams have been spreading religious extremism and that they have used a local soccer team to indoctrinate boys.
Prosecutors allege that three of the imams were undermining the state by encouraging people to boycott parliamentary elections and spreading religious hatred.
The other 10 are implicated in working with Al Waqfal Islami, a Saudi-financed charity that built mosques, sent boys on trips to the Middle East and financed religious education in Bulgaria that prosecutors say embraced the Salafist brand of fundamentalist Islam.
The Bulgarian government closed Al Waqfal Islami in 2003, but prosecutors say the 13 accused continued its work without a license.
Defense lawyers continue to deliver their pleas Thursday. The main grounds are that Salafism is a school in Islam and it is incorrect to describe faith as anti-democratic ideology.