Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov is embroiled again in a controversy stemming from his idiosyncratic interpretation of the workings of Russia's judicial system and his seemingly obsessive compulsion to position himself as defender of the interests of the country's Muslim community.
As on previous occasions, such as when Kadyrov issued a directive to the Chechen "force" agencies in April to "shoot to kill" in the event that Interior Ministry personnel from another federation subject enter Chechnya without prior authorization, the supreme federal bodies involved have rejected, and pointed to the flaws in, his arguments.
The current dispute centers on a ruling by the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk municipal court, handed down on August 19 but made public only last week, that a booklet on prayer, and specifically two key ayats from the Koran in Russian translation, are "extremist."
Kadyrov promptly declared his intention to appeal that court ruling. So, too, did Council of Muftis of Russia co-chairman Nafigulla Ashirov, who co-edited the volume in question, and the Muslim Spiritual Board of Asiatic Russia.
Kadyrov, however, went even further. He said he will not simply appeal the court ruling as "illegal and unfounded" but also demand it be formally designated "of an extremist nature" and "deliberately intended to undermine stability in Russia." For good measure, he branded the prosecutor and judge "devils" ("shaytan") and "traitors," claiming that they could not fail to have known that their actions would trigger million-strong protests across Russia and abroad and lead to Russia's isolation from the Islamic world.
When a spokesperson for the federal Prosecutor-General's Office responded that Kadyrov should not have publicly insulted the prosecutor and judge by impugning their professionalism, Kadyrov repeated his characterization of the two as "devils" and traitors," adding that anyone who disagrees with that characterization is likewise a devil and a traitor.
Meanwhile, two of Kadyrov's closest associates issued more circumspectly worded statements conveying the same message. State Duma deputy Adam Delimkhanov said the "extremist" court decision testified to the lack of professionalism and competence of the prosecutor and judge who, he continued, "are playing into the hands of international terrorists."
Chechen human rights ombudsman Nurdi Nukhadjiyev for his part termed the court ruling an insult to the religious sensibilities of thousands of believers and a deliberate provocation masterminded from abroad. Echoing Kadyrov, Nukhadjiyev argued it would be "naïve" to suppose that the judge and prosecutor were unaware they were trampling the sensibilities not just of Russia's 20 million Muslims but of the world Muslim community.
The only other senior Muslim political figure to comment on the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk court ruling was Republic of Ingushetia head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, who said he condemns it, as should all believers, on the grounds that it could create a dangerous precedent for "thoughtless decisions with regard to the Bible, the Torah, and other religious scriptures." He appealed to "all Russians," asking them "not to yield to provocations, but to pray for the judge and prosecutor, that the Almighty may show them" the error of their ways.
Never one either to back down or to admit he could have overreacted, Kadyrov nonetheless proceeded to demand that the State Duma should adopt a law banning judges from handing down rulings relating to the Koran or other religious scriptures. But according to Yaroslav Nilov, who chairs the Duma Committee for Public Groupings and Religious Organizations, given that Russia is a secular state, the Duma is not empowered to pass such a law. Nilov advocated instead that the Supreme Court should issue recommendations to lower courts regarding how to assess religious literature.
Shamsail Saraliyev, who represents Chechnya in the Duma, is nonetheless drafting such legislation.
On September 11, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk municipal court chairman Aleksandr Chukhray said Kadyrov's appeal against the court ruling had been received by e-mail but the court could only act on the basis of a hard copy bearing Kadyrov's original signature. He said the deadline for receipt of that document was September 12, after which the court ruling could no longer be appealed. There has been no confirmation from official Chechen sources that the deadline has been met.