A prominent imam in Uzbekistan has caused a stink by taking to social media to propose restoring the death penalty for supporters of the Islamic State militant group and the banned Islamist political party Hizb ut-Tahrir.
“We should reserve punishments for them like the ones they have in Islamic states,” Shermurov Togai, a well-known imam in Tashkent, said in a Facebook status update that has since been deleted. “We cannot spare the enemies of our religion and people who are hampering our freedom. They have become accustomed to free accommodation in prison, with free food and all the services for free.”
The tenor of the remarks reflects a marginally increased tolerance for outspoken views in Uzbekistan that has been ushered in under the rule of President Shavkay Mirziyoyev. Back in the days of the late president, Islam Karimov, religious figures like Togai typically avoided making public pronouncements of sensitive issues and spoke only to support the leader’s policies.
Togai said that he was motivated in his remarks by a desire to see peace and stability prevail in Uzbekistan.
“I remember the early 1990s, when the Soviet Union collapsed and racketeering and mafia began to flourish in Uzbekistan. In those days, Islam Karimov introduced capital punishment and these things disappeared, and criminality and stealing cars came to an end,” Togai told EurasiaNet.org. “Well, I thought if we brought in the death penalty for people who have gone astray and joined Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Islamic State, then maybe the number of people in those groups would stop growing.”
Togai said he was moved to delete his original Facebook posting because of the wave of critical comments posted under his remarks.
“They insulted me with swearwords,” he said. “Particularly internet users sympathizing with radical Islamists, most of whom live abroad.”
Togai’s usual targets for criticism are representatives of Uzbekistan’s entertainment industry, many of whom he feels have fallen under the sway of Western influences.
As a teacher at a religious school in Tashkent told EurasiaNet.org, Togai belongs to an older generation of religious figures in Uzbekistan given to ultra-orthodox views about religion and the role of women in private life.
“A person's life is priceless and to pass a death sentence on somebody requires good reasons. Perhaps he had in mind those Uzbek citizens who are fighting with Islamic State,” the school worker, who asked to be identified only as Yakub, told EurasiaNet.org. “But even with those people it is necessary to do explanatory work. After all, people may have gone astray because of poor knowledge of the fundamentals of Islam.”
Islamic State and Hizb ut-Tahrir are both banned in Uzbekistan. Also, the death penalty has not been on the statute books since 2008.