Dushanbe, Tajikistan (GVO) – A 65-year-old man called Saidmahdikhon Sattorov but known throughout Tajikistan as Sheikh Temur was sentenced to 16 years in jail earlier this week for ‘illegal land grabbing’, ‘polygamy’, ‘extortion’, ‘desecration of the dead and their burial places’, and ‘obstruction the obtainmnent of compulsory basic education’. Sattorov, who attracted hundreds of feet-kissing followers to his cause, claimed to be the ‘Last Prophet’, a title often reserved for the Prophet Muhammad in the Islamic religion.
In the hearings that followed Temur’s arrest in February, the sheikh admitted he has more than one wife, built illegally on lands he did not own, and did not allow his children to attend a school. He requested compassion and mercy for his “old age” and in lieu of the holy month of Ramadan as he awaited sentencing on July 8.
However, a judge in the predominantly Muslim post-Soviet republic failed to show leniency to the sheikh, who just a few months ago was revelling in the joys of young wives, free land, and disciples that drank the water he used to wash his hands.
Readers of local news websites were more merciful. Although several months ago Tajik netizens were angry at the sheikh and demanded harsher punishments, many asked for him to be released once the court’s verdict became public knowledge.
On Ozodagon, a reader named Khayr wrote:
Free this poor man. All officials are also corrupted. Respected judge, did you buy your expensive car and luxury house with just a salary? Ozodagon, publish [this comment]!
Another Ozodagon reader Marhabo agreed:
You are able [to imprison] only poor people. Where is humanity? This old man might die in the prison.
A commenter Kalkhoznik, writing under an article on the sheikh’s sentencing published on the Asia Plus web-site was surprised by the length of the sentence:
It is hard to understand the reason behind this verdict. Sheikh was a Sufi, had no interest in politics, lived somewhere in the mountains, did not bother anyone, and for those crimes he was charged…It remains a secret why they wanted to punish him so publicly.
For other observers, however, the reason is obvious. Tajikistan’s government has clamped down on all representations of Islam beyond a state-sanctioned and highly sanitised version of the religion, in which pro-government imams read out sermons against the country’s only faith-based opposition party, and police reportedly subject beard-sporting Muslims to forced shavings.
While Sheikh Temur’s charlatan behaviour was far from the tenets of the Koran, the authorities may have wanted to send out a message to other sects that might undermine the state’s monopoly over religious practices.