LONDON, May 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The leader of Russia's southern region of Chechnya has urged men to lock up their wives and ban them from using WhatsApp after outrage over the forced marriage of a 17-year-old girl spread on the messaging service.
Married Chechen police chief Nazhud Guchigov, 47, wed Kheda Goylabiyeva last Saturday after threatening to kidnap the teenager and warning her family of reprisals if they did not agree to the marriage, according to the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who had earlier backed the marriage in apparent violation of Russian laws against polygamy, used an interview with a local broadcaster to condemn discussion of the wedding on WhatsApp.
"Lock them in, do not let them go out, then they will not post anything," Kadyrov was quoted as saying by the BBC.
"The family honor is the most important thing. Men, do take your women out of WhatsApp."
The Chechen leader said in an Instagram post last week that the girl's parents had agreed to the marriage, and criticized Russian media coverage of "this fuss ordered by some liberals."
Polygamy is illegal in Russia, though it is permitted under Islamic law if both the first wife and any future brides consent, and their husband treats them equally.
Kadyrov is loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin but enjoys a large degree of autonomy in running the mainly Muslim region, having put down an anti-Moscow insurgency that had given rise to two wars in Chechnya after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Russia's child rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov provoked outrage last week by supporting the right of older men to marry teenage brides, telling a local radio station that some women were "shriveled" by the age of 27.
He later apologized for his comments in an Instagram post in which he said that women of any age were "wonderful and delightful," accompanying his post with a picture of the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus. (Reporting By Kieran Guilbert; Editing by Tim Pearce)