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15 April 2010

TAJIKISTAN: Officials insist unregistered activity "illegal"

Tajikistan continues to seriously restrict freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service has found. At least 236 Five-fold, 48 Central cathedral, and 12 Cathedral mosques, as well as over 12 non-Muslim religious organisations have not been re-registered under the Religion Law. Unregistered religious activity is illegal, against international human rights standards and the Constitution. In contrast to the relaxed attitude shown by the Head Department for Religious Affairs (HDRA) towards the unregistered Council of Ulems' activity, a diametrically opposed attitude has been shown towards the also unregistered Baptist Union. "It should stop its activity since all unregistered religious activity is considered illegal now according to the new Law," HDRA Deputy Head Saidbeg Mahmadulloyev told Forum 18. The Jehovah's Witnesses are still banned, but Tajikistan's only synagogue is being allowed to operate despite not yet having applied for registration. Officials are imposing "unofficial" restrictions on registered groups, such as limitations on geographic activity and on Islamic preaching.

10 December 2009

TAJIKISTAN: More than half of religious communities to be "illegal"?

Less than a month before the re-registration deadline of 1 January 2010 imposed by Tajikistan's restrictive new Religion Law, officials have conceded to Forum 18 News Service that less than half the religious communities in the country have been re-registered. Under the Law, communities which do not want to register or fail to gain re-registration will be illegal. Deputy Culture Minister Mavlon Mukhtarov and Idibek Ziyoyev of the Culture Ministry's Head Department for Religious Affairs (HDRA) – which oversees registration - told Forum 18 that unregistered religious activity will not be allowed, despite this breaching international human rights standards. Some mosques have already been refused re-registration, and many are waiting for registration along with the Baptist Union and the country's only synagogue. When re-registering some non-Muslim communities the HDRA has imposed territorial restrictions on their activity. If the number of mosques in a local area exceeds the Law's mosque quotas, Deputy Culture Minister Mukhtarov told Forum 18 that "we will close down mosques which exceed the quotas."

2 December 2009

TAJIKISTAN: Court bans Baptist church

Members of a Baptist congregation in Tajikistan's capital Dushanbe have appealed to the City Court against a ban on their activity imposed because they meet for worship in a private home without state registration. But Judge Soliya Ismailova of Somoni District Court, who handed down the ban, defended her decision and denied that this violated the Baptists' freedom of worship. "The Law demands that all non-government organisations register," she told Forum 18 News Service. The court-imposed ban came after a 9 October raid on a church service by officials of the City Administration, Dushanbe city Prosecutor's office, police and NSC secret police. Baptists told Forum 18 they are continuing to meet for worship despite the ban. State control of religious activity has been steadily tightening in 2009, including through a new Religion Law.

28 September 2009

TAJIKISTAN: "It seems that reading the Bible together is now a criminal offence"

Hamzaali Pulodov, the religious affairs official in the northern town of Khujand, has defended the criminal cases against up to 17 Jehovah's Witnesses on charges of inciting inter-religious hatred, which carry a sentence of between five and nine years' imprisonment. "When people break the law they are prosecuted," he told Forum 18 News Service. He says books confiscated during a June raid on a flat where they were meeting had "propagandised against the Constitution and incited enmity between citizens", but admitted he has not read them. Prosecutors and the NSC secret police refused to say how many Jehovah's Witnesses face criminal charges and when cases will go to court. Zafar Rakhimov, who is among those facing prosecution, told Forum 18 he believes two or three of their leaders will be brought to court. "Prosecutor Muzaffarov told me that the accusation is based on the fact that we interpret the Bible differently from Protestants. It seems that reading the Bible together is now a criminal offence." Jehovah's Witnesses are banned in Tajikistan.

24 June 2009

TAJIKISTAN: Places of worship confiscated with little compensation

Twelve years after it legally bought its worship building in the capital Dushanbe, members of the Grace Sunmin Protestant Church have until 1 July to remove the extensions they added to the building and vacate it, church members told Forum 18 News Service. "I understand that they should be packing and leaving the building now, if they haven't already done so," Deputy Culture Minister Mavlon Mukhtarov told Forum 18. But he refused to explain why the church has been stripped of its property with only minimal compensation being offered. Ten months after another Protestant Church in Dushanbe was bulldozed in city redevelopment plans, the promised compensation has not been given, church members told Forum 18. Meanwhile, as an "exception", a five-fold mosque in Dushanbe was allowed to hold a sermon at Friday prayers on 19 June. Only Cathedral mosques are allowed to hold sermons. Mukhtarov refused to tell Forum 18 if the mosque will be allowed to hold sermons regularly in future or why sermons are allowed in only a minority of mosques.

19 June 2009

TAJIKISTAN: Religion Law's worst impact is on Muslims

Tajikistan's restrictive new Religion Law is making its worst impact on the country's Muslim community, Forum 18 News Service has found. Several imams Forum 18 contacted to discuss freedom of religion and belief after the new Law refused to discuss the issue, fearing reprisals from the authorities. Hikmatullo Saifullozoda of the Islamic Revival Party told Forum 18 that there is an "unwritten instruction from the authorities" that preaching should take place "only in Cathedral mosques". Some imams agreed with this statement, although others were not sure. One imam from the capital Dushanbe said he could not say "how much worse" the new Law made "the already bad situation of religious freedom" in Tajikistan. Even before the Law came in, the authorities banned the Jehovah's Witnesses and two Protestant communities. Deputy Culture Minister Mavlon Mukhtarov denied to Forum 18 that any ban has been imposed on sermons anywhere apart from Cathedral mosques.

12 June 2009

TAJIKISTAN: Muslims and Protestants are the latest official targets

After Tajikistan's adoption of a restrictive new Religion Law the Muslim community appears to be the main target of official hostility, Forum 18 News Service has found. Officials have told Forum 18 the NSC secret police is preparing the so-far unspecified charges against 93 members of the Jamaat Tabligh Islamic movement, who were detained by the authorities in April and May. Tajikistan State University has expelled "up to four" Muslim students for wearing the hijab. The Vice-Rector claimed to Forum 18 that they were expelled "not because of religion but because the university had a dress code." Meanwhile attacks on the property of religious communities continue, with the Protestant Grace Sunmin Church in the capital Dushanbe having lost its legal battle to stop the authorities evicting it from its own church building. The Church has been given a deadline of 1 July to leave its building.

4 June 2009

UZBEKISTAN: Appeals by prisoners of conscience rejected

Uzbekistan has rejected appeals by nine Muslim prisoners of conscience against their harsh jail terms, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Ikrom Merajov and eight other followers of the approach of theologian Said Nursi had their sentences confirmed on 2 June. Merajov was in April given nine years in jail, with terms of between five and a half years and six years imposed on the others. 25 Nursi-related prisoners of conscience have so far in 2009 been given almost 200 years in jail. Merajov's brother Ilhom told Forum 18 that "no proof of any guilt was presented in court" and that written verdicts have not been given to the nine prisoners of conscience and their lawyers. An appeal to the Supreme Court is being prepared. Meanwhile, a Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience, Irfon Khamidov, has been freed at the end of his sentence but almost immediately deported to Tajikistan. He was allowed to see his two-year-old son for the first time for one night only. Short-term imprisonments for up to 15 days and massive fines continue to be used to punish Baptists and Jehovah's Witnesses. No state officials were willing to discuss the cases with Forum 18.

15 May 2009

TAJIKISTAN: Why are around 93 Muslims being detained?

Some 93 followers of the Jamaat Tabligh Islamic movement are being detained in Tajikistan, Forum 18 News Service has been told. Officials have claimed to Forum 18 that the number is "much smaller than 93", but have refused to state who is being held or why they are being held. Officials claimed to Forum 18 the movement was banned in Tajikistan in 2006, but a Supreme Court official and civil society sources have told Forum 18 that they were unaware of the ban. An independent human rights defender who is familiar with the group's followers in Tajikistan described it to Forum 18 as "peaceful" and said "they tell Muslims how to recognise dangerous Islamic movements (..). This is exactly what Tajikistan needs." One Jamaat Tabligh follower questioned why, if the authorities think the group is harmful, its followers were able to preach openly. He told Forum 18 that "there were no attempts to stop our activity until now. We gathered in various mosques once a week with the invitation and permission of the mosques' imams."

8 May 2009

TAJIKISTAN: Will Religion Law be revised or not?

Tajikistan's government is making contradictory statements about whether or not the new and restrictive Religion law will be changed, Forum 18 News Service notes. President Emomali Rahmon has stated that the Law "will not be changed" as it is "well-defined and clear". However, Mavlon Mukhtarov, the Deputy Ministry of Culture, has told Forum 18 that the Law is "not a dogma" and may change. "We are at the moment studying the law, and collecting recommendations on possible changes and corrections," he stated. Protests against the Law have continued within Tajikistan, an Islamic Revival Party (IRP) politician observing that it contradicts Tajikistan's Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Muslim, Christian and Baha'i religious communities have complained to Forum 18 that, since 2006, almost no religious organisations have been given state registration, the head of the Culture Ministry's Religious Affairs Department confirming that "only" new non-Muslim religious organisations were denied registration since 2006.

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