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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.

3 March 2014

TAJIKISTAN: State control of Islam increasing

Tajikistan continues to increase state control of Muslims exercising freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. Only one madrassah (Islamic religious school) is allowed to operate, all others having been closed. An imam fired by the State Committee for Religious Affairs (SCRA) in July 2013 remains unemployed, and in February 2014 the SCRA ordered sermons on one topic to be preached in every mosque where preaching is permitted by the state. Also, President Emomali Rahmon has decided that imams must wear a uniform and be paid by the state. Asked why imams cannot themselves decide what they should preach on, SCRA Deputy Chair Solehjon Zavkiyev denied to Forum 18 that the instruction came from the SCRA. "It was a decision of the Council of Ulems", he claimed, "and I don't see anything wrong in it." Imam Ibodullo Kalonzoda from Sogd Region told Forum 18 that "I do not think it is state interference". He went on to claim that "military men have their uniforms, so do the police and other state officials. The imams need to have their official uniform".

4 December 2013

TAJIKISTAN: Have "suspended" Islamic schools been closed down?

Nine madrassahs (Islamic religious schools) functioned in Tajikistan's northern Sogd Region until the harsh 2009 Religion Law. Only five were allowed to register after that, but their activity was "suspended" in July 2013. Five months on, none has been allowed to resume its activity and the 300 children have had to transfer to public schools, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Mavlon Mukhtarov of the State Committee for Religious Affairs, as well as Abdukhakim Sharipov of Sogd Region's Religious Affairs Department claimed to Forum 18 that the suspensions came because the authorities wanted to "bring order" to the madrassahs' legal documents and curricula. Mukhtarov said he "cannot give an exact time" for their reopening. Only one madrassah – in Tursonzoda – still functions in the entire country. The United Nations Human Rights Committee criticised the state's restrictions on religious education – and other restrictions on freedom of religion – in a report published in August.

18 November 2013

TAJIKISTAN: "The law demands that all religious literature be checked by the state"

Members of Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party had "hundreds of booklets" seized from them by police in the northern city of Khujand, a party member complained to Forum 18 News Service. The booklets, seized ahead of the 15 October Islamic festival of Kurban Bayram (Eid al-Adha), explained "the meaning of the holiday and its values". Police warned party members they could be punished for distributing unapproved religious literature. A Baptist was fined in the capital Dushanbe in September after three church members received religious magazines by post from Belarus. This – and at least five other earlier cases - were all brought by the NSC secret police. Mavlon Mukhtarov, Deputy Head of the State Committee for Religious Affairs (SCRA), told Forum 18 that censorship "must be done according to the Religion Law." Religious communities described the SCRA's censorship fees as "unaffordable".

22 March 2013

TAJIKISTAN: Religious political party members fined for religious activity

Police, secret police and local officials are continuing to try to prevent members of Tajikistan's only legally permitted religious political party - the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) - from exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief in party-organised meetings. A women's meeting in a village of northern Sugd Region was broken up soon after they began praying and reading the Koran. Police Chief Vosip Kaziyev told Forum 18 News Service that the authorities decided to "allow the IRP to have religious gatherings only on Saturdays but [Munovar] Sadikova held her meeting on 20 February, which was a Wednesday." She was fined. When her husband objected vocally to his wife and the other participants being harangued by an administration official, he was imprisoned for 15 days for petty hooliganism. Up to five women in southern Khatlon Region were fined for taking their children to a February celebration of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad's birthday arranged by the IRP.

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