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28 April 2017

TAJIKISTAN: "Extremism" prison term for Christian books?

The NSC secret police in Khujand arrested Protestant pastor Bakhrom Kholmatov on 10 April after raiding his church and seizing Christian literature. Officials claim songbooks and a book "More Than a Carpenter" are "extremist". The pastor is being investigated on "extremism" criminal charges.

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.

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.

28 August 2012

TAJIKISTAN: Further administrative penalties punish religious activity

Three new Articles were added to the Code of Administrative Offences to punish those violating the Religion Law's tight restrictions on sending Tajik citizens abroad for religious education; on preaching and teaching religious doctrines; and on establishing ties with religious organisations abroad. Another new provision punishes religious communities doing things not specifically set out in their statutes. For the first time, the responsibility has been given to the State Committee for Religious Affairs to hand down the fines for such "offences", Forum 18 News Service notes. "Parliament did not see any violation of rights, and so adopted these changes," Mavlon Mukhtarov of the State Committee claimed to Forum 18. One independent legal expert told Forum 18 that "it should not be the prerogative of the State Committee to hand punishments to religious communities but of the courts." "We feel like little children who need to ask permission for each step we are taking," one Protestant complained to Forum 18.

6 February 2012

TAJIKISTAN: Mosque raided, worshippers detained without trial, imams removed and fined, sermons banned

Over 50 officials from the police, NSC secret police, Prosecutor's Office and the State Committee for Religious Affairs (SCRA) raided a high-profile mosque near Tajikistan's capital Dushanbe during Friday prayers on 9 December 2011. They accused the mosque leaders of marking a Shia Muslim commemoration, insisting that only Hanafi Sunni rituals should be observed. Two brothers from the prominent Turajonzoda family which ran the mosque were fined, while nine other mosque members were held for ten days with no court hearing, mosque members complained to Forum 18 News Service. The SCRA also removed the mosque's imams and downgraded its status. Police imposed a cordon on Fridays during successive weeks' prayers. But Alisher Abdurasulov, Deputy Chief of Vahdat Police, denied to Forum 18 that anyone was detained without trial or that the village was cordoned off to prevent worshippers reaching the mosque. Asked why he and other officials raided the mosque, SCRA Head Abdurahim Kholikov told Forum 18: "I have the right not to answer you."

7 October 2011

TAJIKISTAN: Creeping implementation of Parental Responsibility Law?

Tajikistan appears to be only implementing against Muslims its new Parental Responsibility Law, which among other restrictions bans people under 18, who are not receiving state-approved religious education, from all religious activity. However, Muslim young people are still attending mosques. Faredun Hodizoda, a Dushanbe-based commentator, told Forum 18 News Service that "religious leaders cannot tell young people not to come to mosques because that would be against Islamic law". So he expected that young people would continue to attend mosques, and so "the authorities will have to punish the believers". Daler Saidmurodov of the Interior Ministry admitted to Forum 18 that there is "tightened control" of mosques on Fridays. But he insisted that the restriction was on schoolchildren attending mosques during school hours, and that police have been ordered to stop this. Meanwhile, the country's mosque closure campaign is continuing and a legally resident Jehovah's Witness has been deported.

16 August 2011

TAJIKISTAN: Ban on children in worship "once Ramadan is over"?

Although the highly controversial Law on Parental Responsibility for Education and Upbringing of Children has entered into force, state Religious Affairs officials have failed to explain to religious communities how its near-complete ban on children's participation in religious activity will be enforced. The head of the government's Religious Affairs Committee, Abdurahim Holikov, has been travelling around Tajikistan to explain the new Law to imams, together with the government-backed head of the Islamic Centre Saimukarram Abdukodirzoda, but what they said remains unclear. Several Christian communities tried to find out from the Committee at a 12 August meeting. "Officials explained that the Law exists, but didn't explain how it will be put into practice," one Catholic told Forum 18 News Service. Hikmatullo Sayfullozoda of the Islamic Renaissance Party told Forum 18 he had heard that "the President gave a verbal instruction to local administrations not to touch people during [the Muslim holy month of] Ramadan". Sayfullozoda fears that the authorities will act once Ramadan is over at the end of August.

21 July 2011

TAJIKISTAN: "Religious activity is only banned up to the age of 18"

Tajikistan's Parliament has today (21 July) adopted two measures particularly targeting the rights of children and their parents, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The Parental Responsibility Law would in practice ban most children under eighteen from religious activity. An amendment to the Criminal Code was passed punishing organisers of undefined "extremist religious" teaching. Both come two weeks after an amendment to the Religion Law imposed tight restrictions on religious education in Tajikistan and abroad. Both the Parental Responsibility Law and the Criminal Code amendments will now go to President Emomali Rahmon for signature. Suhaili Hodirov of the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson defended the changes, telling Forum 18: "Religious activity is only banned up to the age of 18". First Deputy Prime Minister Asadullo Gulomov said his children are still young "but I'll do as Allah orders". Eventually he told Forum 18: "Other government departments deal with this issue." A member of a religious community in the capital Dushanbe told Forum 18 that: "The Law breaks the fundamental rights of children and their parents". Hikmatullo Sayfullozoda of the Islamic Renaissance Party similarly condemned the changes: "This ban violates the rights of children to a religious education and to participation in religious rituals. A child is also a person, and has rights."

28 June 2011

TAJIKISTAN: "This is not the first time.."

Police in Tajikistan continue to try to suppress unregistered Muslim education throughout the country, Forum 18 News Service notes. Police General Sharif Nazarov told Forum 18 that "this is not the first time we have exposed illegal religious teachers, and given them administrative fines". Examples of such "offences" include three women fined for "just teaching how to read the Koran" to groups of young girls in their private homes without state permission, a Muslim who wished to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18. The three taught children the Arabic alphabet and so how to read to Koran. Similarly, police north of the capital Dushanbe are preparing charges against the Imam of an officially registered mosque, for teaching five children aged between nine and 17 in his private home. However, in Dushanbe the authorities have temporarily eased the mosque closure campaign. Some Muslims in the country suspect that this is for fear of the impact of the Arab Spring uprisings against dictatorships.

22 June 2011

TAJIKISTAN: Bans on children's religious activity, illegal meetings, and "extremist religious" teaching close?

Tajikistan's controversial Parental Responsibility Law - approved by Parliament's Lower Chamber on 15 June – may soon be approved in the Upper House and by the President. Under it the only children allowed to participate in any religious activity, apart from funerals, will be those at state-approved religious education establishments. Many think this is aimed at Muslims, who only have around 80 state-approved establishments throughout the country. Also approved in the Lower House the same day were new Criminal Code amendments specifically extending punishments for unapproved meetings to religious meetings, and imposing harsh prison terms for "religious extremist" teaching. However, "religious extremist" teaching is not defined and could extend to any religious teaching without state approval, Forum 18 News Service notes. "Prosecutors and Courts will be able to distinguish between what is just unauthorised religious education, which will receive Administrative punishment, and what is religious extremism, which will be criminally liable," Sattor Kholov, the Deputy who led the Lower Chamber discussion of the Criminal Code amendments, claimed to Forum 18.

26 May 2011

TAJIKISTAN: Ban on religious education abroad without state permission to be adopted soon?

Without any prior public notice on 25 May the Lower Chamber of Tajikistan's Parliament approved without discussion a government-proposed amendment banning people of any faith from having religious education abroad without state permission. An independent Tajik journalist, who wished to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 News Service on 26 May that the amendment "was rushed to the Parliament without any public discussions". They suggested to Forum 18 that "the authorities may be afraid of the Arab Spring movements. But their main motivation is to totally control religious life, and especially Muslims." A Muslim lawyer from the capital Dushanbe, Zafar Kurbonov, noted to Forum 18 that "our Constitution guarantees everybody's right to education whether at home or abroad. This is a gross violation of our rights." Deputy Marhabo Jabborova told Forum 18 that the changes need to be approved by parliament's Upper Chamber and President Emomali Rahmon. In southern Tajikistan the authorities have continued the nationwide campaign against places of worship, destroying a mosque and banning the activity of a Baptist church.

25 May 2011

TAJIKISTAN: Restrictive Parental Responsibility Law to be adopted soon?

Tajikistan's Parliament may adopt a restrictive Parental Responsibility Law, drafts of which ban children from attending religious activities apart from funerals, Forum 18 News Service has found. The latest text of the proposed Law has not been made public – even though it is being discussed in Parliamentary Committees – and deputies and officials have been giving contradictory answers about the expected timetable. It may be adopted by July, even though drafts of the Law – which was initiated by President Emomali Rahmon – break the Constitution and international human rights standards. Local religious communities, independent legal experts and human rights defenders have condemned the draft Law, but Deputy Marhabo Jabborova, Chair of the parliamentary committee leading discussions on the Law, told Forum 18: "I am not aware of any comments from religious communities." An Imam, who wished to remain unnamed, said he is "very concerned" over the impending ban. "They should have a chance to receive religious teaching while they are still children, and it does not matter whether it is Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or other teaching", he told Forum 18.

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.

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.

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."

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