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3 April 2009

TAJIKISTAN: Latest religious property eviction, Religion Law enters force

In Tajikistan's latest attack on religious property, the Protestant Grace Sunmin Church in the capital Dushanbe has been given 10 days to leave their church building. Claiming they do not want to "disturb" the church over Easter, the authorities subsequently extended the eviction deadline to the end of April. Church members strongly dispute the authorities' claim that they do not own their own church, as well as the "ridiculous amount offered" as compensation. Mosques, churches and the country's only synagogue have previously been demolished. The highly restrictive new Religion Law has now come into force, despite strong protests from local human rights defenders, religious communities, and international bodies including the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief and the OSCE. Among other restrictions in the Law, the number of mosques is restricted, all imams must be appointed by the state, state censorship is imposed on all religious literature; and children's religious activity and education are restricted. State officials have described protests as "baseless" and those who share the concerns of international organisations as supporting "alien ideas." Also coming into force is the new Code of Administrative Offences, with increased penalties for religious activity.

26 March 2009

TAJIKISTAN: President signs repressive Religion Law

Tajikistan's President, Emomali Rahmon, has signed a repressive new Religion Law, but Presidential Administration officials refused to tell Forum 18 News Service why the Law was signed when it violates the Tajik Constitution and the country's international human rights obligations. Akbar Turajonzoda, a member of Parliament's Upper House and a former Chief Mufti told Forum 18 that "I regret very much that the President signed this Law, which will severely restrict the rights of both Muslims and non-Muslims." He said he is already drafting amendments to the Law, which he hopes to submit to the Lower House of Parliament within the next month. Deputy Culture Minister Mavlon Mukhtarov, who oversees religious affairs in the government, claimed to Forum 18 that: "There are no restrictions on religious activity in the new Law." Asked why the new Law imposes limitations on where and how many mosques may be opened, imposes state censorship of religious literature, and enforces state restrictions and control on religious education, he denied that these restrict religious activity. The Law has been criticised by many, including the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

12 March 2009

TAJIKISTAN: "This Law will worsen the situation with religious liberties"

Tajikistan's restrictive new Religion Law, approved by both Houses of Parliament with little debate this month, could go to President Emomali Rahmon for signature within days, Akbar Turajonzoda, an independent member of Parliament's Upper House, told Forum 18 News Service. "This Law contradicts Tajikistan's Constitution and international norms," he insisted. "I voted against." Protestant communities are also concerned, with one pastor telling Forum 18 that "this Law will worsen the situation with religious liberties". The new Law favours the Hanafi school of Islam over other schools, restricts the number of mosques, requires the state to name all imams, restricts religious education, imposes compulsory censorship of religious literature and imposes wide-ranging state control over the activity of all religious associations. Officials reject the possibility of allowing debate on the Law. "We have already had enough public debates," a parliamentary official told Forum 18. "What we need is just to finally adopt it."

23 January 2009

TAJIKISTAN: Islamic school of thought banned

Even though a Tajik official has admitted to Forum 18 News Service that adherents of the Salafi school of Islamic thought have committed no crimes, the country's Supreme Court has banned Salafism and the import and distribution of Salafi literature. Saidbeg Mahmadulloev of the state Religious Affairs Committee insisted to Forum 18, however, that Salafis may be "harmful" in future. Tajikistan's Supreme Court – which has refused to release the text of the decision – reportedly imposed the ban to protect the constitutional order, strengthen national security, and prevent conflict between religious confessions, even though restricting freedom of religion or belief for these reasons is impermissible under Tajikistan's international human rights commitments. An Ismaili imam, who did not wish to be identified, told Forum 18 that "Salafis do not constitute any threat for the country. It does not matter whether one is Sunni or Shiite, Ismaili or Salafi, we are all Muslims." Hikmatullo Saifullozoda of the Islamic Revival Party told Forum 18 that he was concerned about the consequences "if the authorities keep repressing people like this and not allow them to peacefully meet and worship." The ban on the Islamic school of thought comes into force on 9 February.

20 January 2009

TAJIKISTAN: "No rights to organise prayers"

Tajikistan is continuing to close down places of worship in the capital Dushanbe, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Unregistered mosques have been closed down by city authorities, the country's only Jewish synagogue has been bulldozed, while Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses find it difficult to use their places of worship. Defending the closures, Shamsiddin Nuriddinov of the City Executive Authority told Forum 18 that the mosques they closed were public halls, and people had "no rights to organise prayers" there. Members of Dushanbe's Grace Sunmin Protestant Church told Forum 18 that they may be evicted from their building "within a couple of weeks". The Jehovah's Witnesses and one Protestant organisation are still suspended, under decisions imposed in late 2007. The Tajik parliament is still considering a new draft Religion Law, which would impose sweeping restrictions on freedom of religion or belief.

13 January 2009

KYRGYZSTAN: President's signing of restrictive Religion Law condemned

Kyrgyzstan's President, Kurmanbek Bakiev, has signed the restrictive new Religion Law, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Tursunbek Akun, the country's Human Rights Ombudsperson, told Forum 18 that "this Law is not in accord with international human rights standards," as it "imposes a range of restrictions that will prevent small religious communities from developing." Human rights defender Aziza Abdirasulova, of the Kylym Shamy (Candle of the Century) Centre for Human Rights Protection agreed, stating that "the new Law contradicts international human rights standards – and it is not the only Law now being signed that does so," she told Forum 18. She complained that civil society and smaller religious communities had been "left on the sidelines" in the Law's drafting. Also condemning the new Law were religious communities including Seventh-day Adventists, Baptists, Baha'is and Hare Krishna devotees. Jens Eschenbaecher, Spokesperson for the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), told Forum 18 from Warsaw on 13 January that: "It appears that the law as signed by the President still contains many of the problematic features that were highlighted in the legal opinion which was prepared by the ODIHR and the Venice Commission."

9 January 2009

KAZAKHSTAN: Repressive actions continue, repressive law sent for review

President Nursultan Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan has sent a repressive new law severely limiting freedom of religion or belief for review by the country's Constitutional Council, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Meanwhile, the government continues to repress the exercise of freedom of thought, conscience and belief. A Baptist has this month had his main source of income confiscated and been fired from his job, because he led worship without state permission. Speaking of his former employer, who fired him after being visited by court officials, Pastor Aleksandr Kerker said that "he is not to blame though – he was afraid." Hare Krishna devotees have been detained by police in Almaty for handing out religious literature. Officer candidates and other students at the Kazakh Air Force's main training establishment have been warned against "religious extremism" and "religious groups non-traditional for Kazakhstan". They were also shown a film claiming that the Hare Krishna faith incites devotees to commit murder.

17 December 2008

TAJIKISTAN: Restrictive President-backed Religion Law reaches Parliament

Tajik human rights defenders have expressed concern to Forum 18 News Service about a new draft Religion Law. If adopted, it would impose sweeping controls on religious activity and religious associations, particularly on mosques. The draft text has been sent to Parliament by President Emomali Rahmon, and work on it should be completed within a month. Hikmatullo Saifullozoda of the Islamic Revival Party complained to Forum 18 that "the authorities want to control Islam in their own way." Similarly, River of Life Protestant Church complained that many Christians would be placed "outside the framework of the law." Nargis Zokirova of the Bureau on Human Rights and Rule of Law pointed out that all registered religious organisations will have to re-register by 1 July 2009. Those that fail to do this or who no longer meet new more restrictive registration criteria will lose their legal status, she warned. The OSCE Office in Tajikistan told Forum 18 that "the OSCE would thus be happy to review the existing Law and share its expertise with the government of Tajikistan prior to any parliamentary vote."

8 October 2008

TAJIKISTAN: Four religious communities reject government claims to OSCE

Tajik official claims to an OSCE human rights conference in Warsaw over four religious communities have been contradicted by those communities. Officials categorically denied that the Jehovah's Witnesses, Ehyo Protestant Church and the Abundant Life Christian Centre had been banned. Yet on 29 September a Dushanbe court reaffirmed the ban on the Jehovah's Witnesses imposed in October 2007. "They are not allowed to function in Tajikistan, period," Nazira Dodkhudoeva of the Culture Ministry's Religious Affairs Department told Forum 18. Ehyo church members said that one year after being "suspended", officials still will not approve new wording of their charter and have told them they cannot function until this is finalised. Abundant Life reluctantly halted all its activity in May, it told Forum 18. The Tajik delegation also claimed to the OSCE conference that an alternative plot of land "has been provided" to Dushanbe's Jewish community in recompense for its synagogue, bulldozed earlier this year. Rabbi Mikhail Abdurakhmanov, expressed surprise at the claims. Meanwhile, another Protestant church Grace Sunmin is about to lose its worship building in Dushanbe.

1 September 2008

TAJIKISTAN: Confiscation and destruction of religious property "with undue cause"?

Worship for religious communities is becoming more difficult in Tajikistan's capital Dushanbe, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Several mosques were demolished in 2007 and a synagogue and a Protestant church were demolished with no compensation in summer 2008 amid city rebuilding plans. Two other Protestant churches and the Jehovah's Witnesses have been banned. Now the High Economic Court ruled on 29 August in the long-running dispute over the property of a further Protestant church, Grace Sunmin. But Judge Zulfiyya Yusupova – who had barred international observers from the courtroom - refused to tell Forum 18 what the decision was. The authorities want to seize the building back, despite the fact that the church bought it legally ten years ago. "For nine years we have been working on this place and renovation still continues," one church member told Forum 18. "But now the authorities think the time has come for them to take a ready building away from us." The OSCE office in Tajikistan is concerned about the confiscations and destruction, especially over the lack of transparency and the failure to ensure adequate compensation. "If the City of Dushanbe truly needs the said compounds for its civic and public plans, it should compensate the said religious groups accordingly," it told Forum 18. "Sheer confiscation and destruction of property, if done outside of national and international laws and with undue cause, would be contrary to the OSCE commitments of Tajikistan."

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