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17 March 2011

TAJIKISTAN: Religious freedom survey, March 2011

Before the October 2011 UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Tajikistan, Forum 18 News Service's religious freedom survey notes continuing violations of freedom of religion or belief and related fundamental human rights. All activity independent of state control, by Muslims, Christians, Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses and other religious believers, has been targeted by the state. New restrictions in a draft Parental Responsibility Law include a total ban on all participation by people under the age of 18 in all religious activity, apart from funerals. Other violations include but are not limited to: demolitions and closures of mosques, churches, and the country's only synagogue; bans on the Jehovah's Witnesses and some Islamic and Protestant movements; arbitrary jailing of Muslims and criminal charges against Jehovah's Witnesses; a ban on all religious activity without state permission; sweeping limitations on the numbers of mosques permitted; limitations on the right to share beliefs; and tight government censorship. The authority's actions imply they think that the real threat they face is people exercising their human rights outside state control.

15 March 2011

TAJIKISTAN: "Legal" restrictions on parents' and children's religious freedom

Public consultation on Tajikistan's controversial proposed Law on Parental Responsibility for the Education and Upbringing of Children ends today (15 March), Forum 18 News Service notes. Among the numerous new restrictions the draft imposes is to ban all participation by anyone under the age of 18 in religious activities ­ apart from funerals. As with the Religion Law, the draft Parental Responsibility Law is in parts extremely unclear, allowing much room for official arbitrary actions. Local religious communities, independent legal experts and human rights defenders have condemned the draft Law, as violating the religious freedom of children and parents among other freedoms guaranteed by Tajikistan's Constitution and international human rights conventions. Mahmadali Vatanov, Chair of the parliamentary Committee on Laws and Human Rights, would not comment when asked by Forum 18 why the Law is needed. Khursandmurod Mirzoyev, Senior Advisor to Tajikistan's President on Legal Policy, refused to explain why Tajikistan plans to ban children from participating in religious activities.

25 January 2011

TAJIKISTAN: When is a mosque not a mosque?

Tajikistan has this month (January) closed many mosques in the capital Dushanbe and warned local Muslims not to engage in unregistered religious worship, Forum 18 New Service has found. Recent years have also seen closures and demolitions of mosques, churches and the country's only synagogue. Sources Forum 18 has spoken to put the number of closed mosques this month at more than 50. However, officials from the Dushanbe Mayor's office and state Religious Affairs Committee have claimed to Forum 18 was that the closed mosques "are not mosques," and "cannot be used as mosques". It is unclear why the authorities claim that mosques should apply for registration, when the authorities have decided in advance that they cannot be used for worship. A Dushanbe imam, who wished to remain unnamed for fear of the authorities, told Forum 18 that he welcomes members of a closed mosque to his mosque, but "they want to have their own mosque". Officials would not tell Forum 18 what measures will be taken against imams or local Muslims if they continue worshipping in closed mosques.

12 January 2011

TAJIKISTAN: Religious communities forced to pay for state human rights violations

Tajikistan charges religious communities high prices for censorship which violates the internationally recognised human rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service has found. An Imam of an officially registered mosque, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 that he is confident he will receive Religious Affairs Committee permission to print books. But he is "surprised" that charges are imposed. "We cannot afford to pay these charges to print books", he lamented. "We do not earn much", he observed. The Hare Krishna community have found that "even our main sacred book, the Bhagavad Gita", must be censored. "And it is going to be very expensive for us", Dilorom Kurbanova complained. The state Religious Affairs Committee refuses to make public how much it charges for censorship. Numbers of imported books are restricted. It is also uncertain whether communities will be fined for already having or using uncensored literature, and what will happen to confiscated literature.

11 January 2011

TAJIKISTAN: "Why should I ask the Government what books I can read?"

A new "offence" of producing, distributing, importing or exporting religious literature and items of a religious nature which have not passed through the compulsory prior state religious censorship was created with the addition of Article 474-1 to the Code of Administrative Offences. The Article, which came into force on 1 January 2011, imposes heavy fines. An Ismaili Imam from Mountainous Badakhshan Region, who wished to remain unnamed for fear of reprisals from the authorities, is among those to complain to Forum 18 about the fines and the censorship system. "Why should I ask the Government what books I can read? I should be free to read any books about my faith." Mavlon Mukhtarov of the Government's Religious Affairs Committee denied that the censorship violates Tajikistan's international human rights commitments. Asked about the huge fines, he told Forum 18: "Well, we will warn religious organisations not to violate the law, and those fines will only come if they continue violations."

3 December 2010

TAJIKISTAN: Why should one small village have three mosques?

Jumokhon Giyosov, Deputy Chair of the Government's Religious Affairs Committee in Dushanbe, has defended the government moves to bring back about 1,700 Tajik students studying Islam abroad, of whom he says 719 have already returned. "We need to bring order to the process of going abroad to study religion," he told Forum 18 News Service. He rejected suggestions that the instructions violated students' right to gain religious education of their choice. Khusravbek Rakamov, Deputy Head of Badakhshan Regional Administration's Religious Affairs Division, defended the enforced closure in November of 32 unregistered Sunni Muslim mosques in his mountainous region. Ten of them are now seeking registration, and Rakamov claimed to Forum 18 that the rest "agreed with us to discontinue their activity". "Why for instance should there be three mosques in Zing village of Darwaz – a small village where only 600 people live?" he asked. Officials told Forum 18 that those continuing to operate unregistered mosques will be punished.

15 November 2010

TAJIKISTAN: Authorities targeting IRP and Jehovah's Witness unregistered worship

Tajikistan is concentrating on trying to stop unregistered worship under the auspices of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), Central Asia's only legal religious-based political party, and the Jehovah's Witnesses, Forum 18 News Service has found. IRP members have been ordered to stop unregistered prayers, party member Imam Zuboidullo Rozikov has been fined for leading them, and a fire has destroyed an IRP building used as a mosque for women. The ban on Jehovah's Witnesses continues, and "because all of this we live in uncertainty and fear, and cannot worship openly," a Jehovah's Witness in Khujand – where there is a pending criminal trial - lamented. Jehovah's Witnesses have been fired from public sector jobs because of their faith. Some religious communities suspect that the current re-targeting of official efforts against unregistered activity away from them may be only temporary. Referring to the ban on all unregistered religious activity, a Baptist commented that "we will go on with our worship, and are ready for any punishment or consequences".

3 September 2010

TAJIKISTAN: Officials choose Ramadan to impose controls

On the first full day of Ramadan, the Chair and other officials of the Tajikistan government's Religious Affairs Committee, as well as the Justice Ministry and the National Security Committee secret police, visited the Dushanbe headquarters of the Islamic Revival Party (IRP) to order it to halt using its offices for prayers. "We do not officially call it a mosque but do pray in it. However, the officials take a different view on this," Hikmatullo Saifullozoda of the IRP told Forum 18 News Service. Officials agreed to allow prayers there but only for the rest of Ramadan. Presidential Senior Advisor Mansur Sayfutdinov told Forum 18 that according to the law, no political organisation may establish a mosque. Authorities in a town in Sughd Region chose the start of Ramadan to ban the use of loudspeakers to broadcast Muslim prayers. The Religious Affairs Committee has reaffirmed the 2009 ban on children taking part in the haj pilgrimage to Mecca. And the investigator has refused to tell Forum 18 whether the criminal case against 17 Jehovah's Witnesses will be sent to court.

2 September 2010

TAJIKISTAN: "Your children will become extremists and terrorists"

A new crackdown is underway on religious education of children and young people in Tajikistan and abroad, Forum 18 News Service notes. In televised remarks, President Emomali Rahmon called on parents to recall their children from foreign Islamic colleges, claiming that otherwise "your children will become extremists and terrorists". "We ourselves, the government and the Religious Affairs Committee, will decide how many religious ministers are needed for the country," he insisted. Presidential Advisor Mansur Sayfutdinov claimed to Forum 18 that the president was speaking not of all such students, but only those who had not sought state permission for such studies. Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry launched an apparently nationwide "Operation Madrassah" to end private teaching of Islam, which has seen many madrassahs raided and administrative cases launched against teachers. "We have only identified and stopped illegally acting mullahs who have no licence to teach the Koran," one police officer told Forum 18. Article 474 of the Administrative Code bans "teaching religious knowledge without [state] permission".

19 May 2010

TAJIKISTAN: Jail terms and massive fines – but for what crimes?

Tajikistan continues to prosecute and jail religious believers for their ideas, not their actions, Forum 18 News Service has found. 92 followers of the banned Jamaat Tabligh Muslim religious movement have been punished with lengthy prison sentences and huge fines. 32 of these Muslims were yesterday (18 May) given prison terms of between three and six years, with fines of up to 25,000 Somonis (34,320 Norwegian Kroner, 4,330 Euros or 5,340 US Dollars) being imposed on the remaining four followers, a Tajik lawyer who wished to remain anonymous told Forum 18. One of the 36 Muslims complained to Forum 18 that he "does not understand why we should be prosecuted for peacefully praying in mosques and propagating Islam." Asked what exactly the 36 Muslims had done to be punished, Judge Azizova said that it was established that they belonged to the banned Jamaat Tabligh movement. Seven followers of the banned Salafi Muslim school of thought have also been given jail sentences. Meanwhile, the NSC secret police has re-opened criminal cases against 17 members of the banned Jehovah's Witnesses.

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