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Muslim Polygamy Is Russia’s Hottest Political Debate

After a prominent police chief made a 17 year old his second wife Saturday, disputes erupted over polygamy in the majority-Muslim Russian region of Chechnya.

The official, Nazhud Guchigov, is in his 50s. He married Kheda Goylabiyeva in an Islamic ceremony just weeks after her 17th birthday in early May. (The bride is also known by the first name Luiza.) For weeks, the pending marriage was a local media firestorm, as authorities nervously declined to comment on the case’s legality.

Russian federal law prohibits polygamy. But in a vast country of surprising ethnic and religious diversity, local custom has sometimes taken the upper hand since imperial times. In fact, the formal polygamy ban only dates back to a Soviet-era criminal code from 1926, according to The Moscow Times.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the Vladimir Putin-backed ex-warlord who governs the region, has had a reputation for reinforcing an Islamist flavor of Russian law and order in Chechnya. Recent laws under his purview have banned both marriage to minors and the traditional practice of “bride kidnapping.” (RELATED: Russia Tries Every Tactic To Downplay Opposition Leader’s Murder)

But Elena Milashina, a reporter with the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, wrote in late April that prospective groom Guchigov had subverted these measures by setting up roadblocks throughout Goylabiyeva’s village while she was still 16. This way, she wrote, “her parents… could not transport her further away from an elderly husband.”

Milashina has reportedly now fled Russia entirely.

The Daily Beast has also reported from Chechnya, noting that according to one of the bride’s schoolmates, “Kheda told him that she has a boyfriend, but it was disregarded. They say that her boyfriend was beaten half to death.”

Kadyrov, who has also famously suggested that Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a pawn of U.S. intelligence, soon took notice of the criticisms facing Guchigov. On Friday, he took to his famously unfiltered Instagram account to reassure the public that the ceremony would be “in strict compliance with Islam and the laws of the Russian Federation.”

He also compared the couple favorably to the U.K.’s Prince William and Duchess of Cambridge, the former Kate Middleton, calling the wedding “the event of the millennium.” And he reminded his followers that he is “a lover of Chechen folk dances,” who hopes to “dance with the prettiest girl” at the reception.

And to critics of the pairing, Kadyrov subtly threatened that “those who have continued, in the most undignified manner, to interfere with Nazhud and Luiza’s personal lives will answer before a court.”

Follow Ivan Plis on Twitter

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