DUSHANBE, August 9, 2016, Asia-Plus -- A resident of Dushanbe has been jailed for disseminating Salafi views through the WhatsApp messenger.

A court in Dushanbe’s Ismoili Somoni district sentenced Shuhrat Partoyev, 33, to five years in prison on August 9.  The sentence followed his conviction on charges of public calls for forcible changes to the constitutional order in Tajikistan (Article 307 (2) of Tajikistan’s Penal Code).  He will serve his term in a high-security penal colony.

Firouz Sultonzoda, a spokesman for the Ismoili Somoni district court, says Shuhrat Partoyev was disseminating Salafi views through the WhatsApp messenger.

“Through the WhatsApp messenger Partoyev joined Hikmat-14 group.  Members of this group were taught Salafi views by Ustod Narzullo (Teacher Narzullo) from Saudi Arabia,” Sultonzoda said.     

WhatsApp Messenger is a proprietary cross-platform, encrypted, instant messaging client for smartphones.  It uses the Internet to send text messages, documents, images, video, user location and audio messages to other users using standard cellular mobile numbers.  As of February 2016, WhatsApp had a user base of one billion, making it the most popular messaging application.

The Salafi movement or Salafist movement is an ultra-conservative orthodox movement within Sunni Islam that references the doctrine known as Salafism.  The movement first appeared in Tajikistan in the early 2000s, having been brought back to the country by Tajiks that had taken refuge in Pakistan during the civil war.

The movement claims to follow a strict and pure form of Islam, but Tajik clerics say the Salafists’ radical stance is similar to that of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Salafists do not recognize other branches of Islam, such as Shi''a and Sufism.  The movement is frequently referred to as Wahhabism, although Salafists reject this as derogatory.

The Tajik authorities banned Salafism as an illegal group on January 8, 2009, saying the Salafi movement represents a potential threat to national security and the Supreme Court added Salafis to its list of religious groups prohibited from operating in the country.

On December 8, 2014, the Supreme Court of Tajikistan formally labeled the banned Salafi group as an extremist organization.  The ruling reportedly followed a request submitted to the court by the Prosecutor-General’s Office.  The ruling means that the group’s website and printed materials are also banned.

The overwhelming majority of Tajiks are followers of the Hanafi madhab, a more liberal branch of Sunni Islam.