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6 September 2016

TAJIKISTAN: Last madrassahs finally closed

Of the 19 madrassahs for 16 to 18 year old Muslims that functioned with state approval before the harsh 2009 Religion Law, all have now been closed. The five remaining madrassahs in Sogd Region – suspended in 2013 – were finally closed, as was the Islamic University's madrassah in Dushanbe.

19 May 2016

TAJIKISTAN: Imprisonments "designed to scare the population"

With imprisonments of Muslims for up to 16 years, Tajikistan's officials refuse to explain what crimes they committed. Punishments are "designed to scare population away from the Salafi movement and Islamic Renaissance Party, or any active movement spreading Islam," rights defenders told Forum 18.

6 May 2016

TAJIKISTAN: Continued state "total control" of Islam

Mosque demolitions, surveillance cameras, metal detectors, a ban on state employees at Friday prayers, youth activists to prevent prayers not in Hanafi or Ismaili tradition continue state moves aiming to "establish total control of Muslim activity", human rights defenders told Forum 18 from Tajikistan.

26 April 2016

TAJIKISTAN: "Inciting religious hatred" charges for at least 6 imams and man who filmed police harassment

Sulaymon Boltuyev, Imam of the cathedral Mosque in Guliston (former Kayrakkum), "did not call for forceful changes of the constitutional order, did not incite religious hatred, nor did he commit anything illegal", his lawyer Faizinisso Vokhidova told Forum 18 News Service. Boltuyev is among at least six imams in Tajikistan's northern Sogd Region in pre-trial detention since early March. They face up to five years' imprisonment on criminal charges of "inciting religious hatred". Also under arrest on the same charge is Okil Sharipov. On a visit to his family from Russia, he had filmed police harassment of women for wearing the hijab (Islamic headscarf). Prosecutors in the cases refused to discuss them with Forum 18 and nor would an official from the office of the Interior Minister in Dushanbe. Sulaymon Davlatzoda, Chair of the State Committee for Religious Affairs (SCRA), confirmed to Forum 18 that the arrested six Imams in Sugd had been appointed with the SCRA's approval. But he too could not say why they had been arrested.

7 January 2016

TAJIKISTAN: Religious freedom survey, January 2016

Before the May 2016 UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Tajikistan, Forum 18 News Service notes continuing violations of freedom of religion or belief and related fundamental human rights such as the freedoms of expression and association. Among violations documented by Forum 18 are: a ban on all exercise of freedom of religion or belief without state permission; severe limitations on the numbers of mosques permitted and activities allowed inside those mosques; arbitrary official actions, including the arrests of Jehovah's Witnesses using police agent provocateurs; bans on the Jehovah's Witnesses and some Islamic and Protestant movements; the banning of Central Asia's only legal religious-based political party, the Islamic Renaissance Party, and the arrest as prisoners of conscience of its senior party figures; forcing imams in state-controlled mosques (the only sort permitted) to preach state-dictated sermons; forcible closure of all madrassahs (Islamic religious schools); a ban on all public exercise of freedom of religion or belief, apart from funerals, by people under the age of 18; and state censorship of and bans on some religious literature and websites. The government's actions imply that it thinks that the real threat it faces is people exercising their human rights outside state control.

25 September 2015

TAJIKISTAN: Communities' foreign contacts blocked, websites banned, Central Asia's only legal religious-based political party banned

Several of Tajikistan's non-Muslim registered religious communities have told Forum 18 News Service that since early 2015 state officials have consistently rejected their requests to be allowed to invite fellow-believers from abroad to participate in religious events. The Orthodox Church was refused permission to invite two scholars from Uzbekistan to a July conference. Other religious communities asked Forum 18 not to name them for fear of state reprisals or to identify their would-be foreign guests. Officials have refused to explain the reasons for the ban, which appears to be part of a government desire to reduce religious communities’ foreign contacts. The state has also blocked access to some websites, including one run by prominent Tajik Muslim scholars. Also, 10 Jehovah's Witnesses, including two women framed by a police agent provocateur, have been fined for "teaching religion unlawfully". And Central Asia's only legal religious-based political party, the Islamic Renaissance Party, has been banned and its senior party figures arrested.

29 July 2015

TAJIKISTAN: "Teaching religion unlawfully in a private flat"

Twice in July, police in Tajikistan's northern Sugd Region detained Jehovah's Witnesses and prepared administrative punishments. Officers raided a meeting for prayer and Bible study in a flat, seizing Bibles, questioning those present at the police station and demanded that they renounce their faith, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 News Service. Khurshed Barotov, Deputy District Police Chief who questioned those detained claimed that "we have freedom of religion", but they were "teaching religion unlawfully in a private flat". A week later, police detained two female Jehovah's Witnesses at a street meeting to discuss their faith with an apparent police agent provocateur. Police refused to confirm or deny to Forum 18 whether the apparent agent provocateur works for them. The two Jehovah's Witnesses were "hit on the head and slapped" for refusing to sign a police report, though police denied this to Forum 18. Elsewhere, an Interior Ministry Colonel in Dushanbe warned mosque-goers during Friday prayers not to leave early, which he claimed was a sign of adhering to non-Hanafi Islam. Human rights defender Rustom Gulov described these warnings as an "example of direct state interference in the private matters of faith of its citizens".

6 May 2015

TAJIKISTAN: "My police shave me"

Tajikistan is forcibly shaving many bearded Muslim men throughout the country, local people have told Forum 18 News Service. Independent legal expert Faredun Hodizoda noted that "aren't such actions and bans something that those interested in promoting jihad will use to provoke a reaction?" Deputy Interior Minister Ikrom Umarzoda refused to state who ordered the beard-shaving campaign, which comes soon after President Emomali Rahmon banned women wearing the hijab. Officials have contradicted themselves on whether police will be held responsible. One victim of the beard-shaving, human rights defender and blogger Rustom Gulov, publicly complained to the President and other senior officials about the campaign's lack of legal basis and the need to punish perpetrators. Gulov stated that the official response "will be an indicator of the value of human dignity in Tajikistan". The only formal response has been for him to be questioned about an allegedly "negative comment insulting President Rahmon" left on his blog. Officials demanded this be removed, which has been done. Officials have also imposed more restrictions on the haj pilgrimage, banning under-35s from participating.

1 April 2015

TAJIKISTAN: Hijab ban and state-written sermons "only a recommendation"?

Women were being stopped at kindergartens in March to be told that they should not drop off their children while wearing a hijab, one source told Forum 18 News Service. "We have received so many phone calls during the last week from women in various places in Dushanbe and outside that they were stopped on the street by officials and warned that they must not wear the hijab," Hikmatullo Sayfullozoda of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) told Forum 18. Despite this – and statements from Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon against women wearing "uncharacteristic" dress - a State Committee for Religious Affairs official claimed to Forum 18 that "no one ever banned the hijab or spoke against it". The same official denied to Forum 18 that imams were required to read state-produced sermons at Friday prayers, one before parliamentary elections backing the ruling party and one afterwards calling for the IRP to be closed down. Orders to imams to read out such sermons are "not compulsory but only a recommendation", the official also claimed.

21 January 2015

TAJIKISTAN: Thoughtcrime banned

Tajikistan continues to penalise people exercising their freedom of religion or belief for their ideas, not their actions, Forum 18 News Service notes. The Supreme Court has decided that Salafi Muslims are "extremist". Court Deputy Chair Makhmudjon Ashurov replied "I cannot tell" when asked by Forum 18 what the difference between this and the 2009 ban on Salafis is. Mavlon Mukhtarov, Deputy Head of the State Committee for Religious Affairs (SCRA), claimed to Forum 18 that Salafis are "extremist" because they "attend Tajik sunni mosques and pray differently, and they also argue with Mosque attendees about the teachings of Islam." Police in Vahdat have arrested and taken into custody two Muslim men after raids. Criminal cases have been opened against them for teaching school-aged children the Koran and Islam. The families are afraid to give details of the raids and arrests. The SCRA has warned in writing various Protestant churches that they must not allow children to be at meetings for worship, but threats to suspend the church's activity have yet to be carried out. Supreme Court Deputy Chair Ashurov did not answer when asked what Tajikistan intends to do to remove the contradiction between its international human rights obligations and the Religion and Parental Responsibility Laws.

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