Officials in Russia's North Caucasus region of Chechnya have shaved their heads after the region's authoritarian leader Ramzan Kadyrov did so, touting it as a way to deal with the closure of services such as hairdressers and barber shops because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Kremlin-backed Kadyrov, 43, has ruled the volatile region with an iron fist since 2007, cracking down on public freedoms and civil rights while hounding opponents of his regime both at home and abroad.
The officials made the move after Kadyrov, who for years has fostered a cult of personality to solidify his power, placed a video on Instagram on April 21 showing his head completely shaven.
"I recommend that all shave their heads as beauty salons are closed and households do not have barbers... Our ancestors did so and, most importantly, that is what the Prophet [Muhammad] did in the night from Tuesday to Wednesday," Kadyrov said in the video.
A day earlier, at a session of coronavirus prevention group, a local resident asked Kadyrov to open hairdressers and the Chechen leader responded that the best solution was to shave heads.
After Kadyrov's video appeared on Instagram, many government officials, law enforcement officers, and other representatives of local authorities followed suit, placing their photos with shaved heads on the Internet.
Mimicking Kadyrov, who is often called "patsha" (king) in Chechen, is not new in Chechnya.
Many officials in the region have taken to wearing similar clothing to Kadyrov and followed suit several years ago when he began growing his now trademark lengthy beard.
Kremlin critics say Russian President Vladimir Putin has turned a blind eye to the alleged abuses and violations of the country's constitution by Kadyrov because he relies on the former rebel commander to control separatist sentiment and violence in Chechnya, the site of two devastating post-Soviet wars and an Islamist insurgency that spread to other mostly Muslim regions in the North Caucasus.
Rights groups say Kadyrov uses repressive measures and has created a climate of impunity for security forces in the region.
They allege he is ultimately responsible for the violence and intimidation of political opponents by Chechen authorities, including kidnappings, forced disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial killings.