DUSHANBE -- An imam at a Dushanbe mosque has been detained on extremism charges after he called a late Islamic cleric "one of great leaders of the country."
State media outlets reported on April 22 that 44-year-old Imam-hatib Abdulhaq Obidov (aka Makhsumi Abdulhaq) from a mosque in Dushanbe's Shohmansur district had been detained on suspicion of being a follower of the Salafi branch of Islam, which has been labeled as extremist and banned in the Central Asian country.
The State Committee for National Security said on April 22 that Obidov was detained along with four other men on unspecified criminal charges.
The day before, the website Bomdod reported that Obidov was detained after a speech he delivered last week at the burial ceremony of well-known Islamic cleric Domullo Hikmatullo Tojikobodi, during which he called him a great leader of Tajikistan.
Bomdod cited sources in Tajikistan's law enforcement structures as saying that authorities considered Obidov's statement as questioning the official title of authoritarian President Emomali Rahmon, who, in accordance with a 2016 law, is officially known as the leader of the nation.
Rahmon, who has ruled Tajikistan since 1992, also enjoys special powers following a May 2016 referendum, including the right to seek as many terms in office as he wants.
Rahmon has been criticized by international human rights groups for years over his disregard for religious freedoms, civil society, and political pluralism in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic.
The State Committee on Religious Issues, Traditions, and Rites said in a statement that Obidov's detention had nothing to do with his speech at the funeral and called on media "to stay away from spreading rumors."
Tajikistan banned the Salafi branch of Islam in 2009 as extremist.
Salafists follow a strict form of Sunni Islam and do not recognize other branches of Islam, such as Shi'a Islam and Sufism.
The majority of Muslims in Central Asia are followers of Hanafi, a more moderate branch of Sunni Islam.