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TAJIKISTAN: "Antidemocratic" draft Religion Law

Tajikistan's latest draft of a proposed new Religion Law has been described to Forum 18 News Service by a Protestant source as "antidemocratic." Religious minorities and human rights activists fear it will be interpreted by officials as banning all unregistered religious activity. The proposed Law bars much legitimate peaceful religious activity, including actions directed at sharing beliefs. Religiously-affiliated political parties are banned, thus apparently banning the opposition Islamic Revival Party. Children younger than 7 are banned from receiving religious education, and young people are forbidden from being "members or participants of religious organisations." All religious education in private houses is forbidden. Only Tajik citizens can lead religious organisations, which causes great concern to the Catholic Church. The main issue concerning religious minorities is legal status, as the draft Law imposes absurdly stringent registration requirements and exceptionally high numbers of signatures to apply for legal status.

TAJIKISTAN: Draft Religion Law causes "deep anxiety"

Tajikistan's religious minorities have expressed "deep anxiety" about the country's latest draft Religion Law, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. They fear the draft Law will make it almost impossible for any non-Muslim religious communities to gain legal status. The government is currently refusing to accept new legal status applications. A joint letter of concern to the Tajik President and parliament has been signed by 22 religious minorities, including the Baha'is, the Catholics, Baptists, Pentecostals, Adventists, Lutherans, and other Protestant denominations. Although the draft Law limits the number of mosques, the officially-backed Muslim leadership refuses to comment on the Law, referring all Forum 18's enquiries to the government. The OSCE is critical of the draft Law's "over-intensive state control on religion and religious activities" and is working with the government, civil society, and all religious organisations to enable a Law which will meet Tajikistan's international commitments.

UZBEKISTAN: State bars haj pilgrims from pilgrimage

Uzbekistan is restricting the number of haj pilgrimages – a requirement for all able-bodied adult Muslims who can do so – to some 20 per cent of the country's total possible number of pilgrims, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Controls on pilgrims have been significantly increased, with potential pilgrims having to be approved by local Mahalla committees, district administrations, the NSS secret police and the state-run Haj Commission. "The authorities are deliberately giving a lower quota in regions of Uzbekistan where there are more believers," an Uzbek Muslim told Forum 18. "It would be better if most Uzbek pilgrims were elderly" the state-controlled Muftiate told Forum 18. Turkmenistan imposes the strictest Central Asian controls on haj pilgrims. Apart from Kazakhstan, all the other Central Asian states also ban non-state organised haj pilgrimages. In Kyrgyzstan last year, there were complaints that Kyrgyz places were taken by Chinese Muslims on false passports.

KAZAKHSTAN: Punished for preaching in mosques

Members of the Tabligh Jama'at international Islamic missionary organisation face increased fines across Kazakhstan for trying to give lectures in mosques without state registration, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Provisions in Kazakh law punish "missionary activity" without special permission. Also punishable is any activity by religious communities that do not have registration, with Baptists and other Protestants so far bearing the brunt of such fines. Secret police official Askar Amerkhanov denied to Forum 18 that the Kazakh authorities now regard Tabligh as extremist: "Tabligh's problem is that its supporters are preaching without having registered with the authorities." Tabligh supporter Murad Mynbaev told Forum 18 in Almaty that the group does not attribute its problems to the central Kazakh authorities but to local authorities "who in their ignorance think we are a political organisation".

KYRGYZSTAN: Mob goes unpunished as intolerance of religious freedom rises

Intolerance of religious freedom – notably that of Christians – is growing among people in south Kyrgyzstan, Forum 18 News Service has found. Two months after a July mob attack on his home in a southern village, in which religious literature including Bibles were burnt, Protestant pastor Zulumbek Sarygulov has told Forum 18 he still fears for the lives of himself and his family. The police chief – three of whose officers witnessed the attack and took no action – denies a hospital report that Sarygulov suffered two broken fingers and was beaten up, as does Shamsybek Zakirov of the state Religious Affairs Committee. Zakirov and the local imam state that Pastor Sarygulov should leave his home and close the church "so as not to provoke the situation". Religion Law amendments are being drafted by a parliamentary deputy, Kamchybek Tashiev, who is hostile to religious freedom. Among proposed new restrictions will be an article punishing those who "offend the feelings of citizens who belong to another religion".

CHINA: Xinjiang - Strict control of China's Uighur Muslims continues

In China's north-western Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, control over Islam continues to be much stricter than over other religions, Forum 18 News Service has found. However, the authorities' control over mosques used by Dungans – a Chinese Muslim people - is less strict than over mosques used by Uighurs. Many Uighurs are Muslims, and their religiosity is often closely connected with separatism. Pressure – for example on the texts of Friday sermons, and attempts to force schoolchildren and state employees such as teachers to abjure Islam – is applied more strictly in the north of the region. There is also a ban in Xinjiang on the private Islamic religious education of children. In response, Forum 18 has noted that Uighur parents often take their children to other parts of China, where they can study freely at a medresseh. Islamic movements such as Sufism and Wahhabism are repressed, and the authorities are attempting to assimilate Uighurs through economic inducements. This policy, Forum 18 has found, has made some impact amongst Uighur Muslims.

CENTRAL ASIA: Religious intolerance in Central Asia

In June 2006, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) held a "Tolerance Implementation Meeting on Promoting Inter-Cultural, Inter-Religious and Inter-Ethnic Understanding," in Kazakhstan. In a paper for the 11 June NGO Preparatory Conference, Igor Rotar of Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org looked at the reality of religious intolerance in Central Asia. This vital issue must be considered by examining the concrete reality of state policy that restricts the rights of believers of one or another confession, and religious intolerance in everyday life. It is sadly impossible to avoid the conclusion that many states in Central Asia deliberately pursue a policy which violates international religious freedom standards - despite the many fine-sounding statements made by these same states at OSCE and other conferences.

KYRGYZSTAN: New law to restrict religious freedom?

An official of Kyrgyzstan's state Religious Affairs Committee has told Forum 18 News Service that the Religion Law could soon be amended to restrict evangelism or proselytism. "I hope that the new draft of the Law will be as close as possible to international standards," But, "we have to take local reality as our starting point," Shamsybek Zakirov told Forum 18. He expressed concern about anger from local Muslims in southern Kyrgyzstan, directed at the Religious Affairs Committee and local Protestants at Protestant evangelism. Zakirov confirmed statements made by Pentecostal Pastor Dzhanybek Zhakipov to Forum 18 that pressure by the authorities on local Protestants has increased. Government minister Adakhan Madumarov today (12 July) was reported as also indicating that the Religion Law may be tightened. The problem of intolerance of Christians and other religious minorities – leading to violent attacks and even murders – is widespread in Central Asia.

TAJIKISTAN: Council of Ulems – an instrument of state control

Some Muslims have expressed concern to Forum 18 News Service over the role of the Council of Ulems (theologians), a body close to the authorities which is seeking to exert control over all mosques and is pushing to receive 30 per cent of their income. Although in theory mosques choose their imams who are then confirmed by the Council, in practice the Council names them – and removes those the authorities do not like. One Dushanbe imam told Forum 18 that a month ago two imams who failed to attend a meeting between the mayor and the clergy were forced out. The Council works with the government to approve those allowed to go on the haj to Mecca and issued a controversial fatwa in 2004 (enforced by the police) banning women from mosques. "The Council of Ulems is completely dependent on the authorities and so there is no doubt that it was simply doing what it was told by the government," Hikmatullo Saifullozoda of the Islamic Revival Party complained to Forum 18. One Council member rejected all criticisms. "Thanks to our president, Tajik Muslims enjoy full rights," he told Forum 18.

TAJIKISTAN: Has controversial religion bill been postponed?

After telling an OSCE-organised round table discussion in the capital Dushanbe on 15 May that the highly restrictive draft Religion Law would not be adopted "in the near future", Muradulo Davlatov who heads the government's Religious Affairs Committee has declined to say when the new Law drawn up by his office might be adopted and in what form. "The media has caused a stir about a leaked version of the draft Law on Religions which could remain in its drafting stages for another year or two," he told Forum 18 News Service, but said he and his staff were "too busy" for an interview to explain further. Reliable sources told Forum 18 that adoption of the new Law has been postponed at least until the presidential elections in November. Hikmatullo Saifullozoda of the Islamic Revival Party's analytical centre is highly critical of the draft's restrictions, especially the ban on unregistered religious activity and restrictions on the numbers of mosques, complaining to Forum 18 that the current text is "a clear illustration of the authorities' attitude to believers".

TAJIKISTAN: Religious affairs chief defends repressive draft law

Muradulo Davlatov, head of the Tajik government's religious affairs committee, has rejected criticism by a wide range of the country's religious communities that the current draft of the religion law would substantially restrict their rights. He denied to Forum 18 News Service that requiring religious communities to register before they can function violates religious freedom rights, claiming (wrongly) that Russia requires such registration. Religious communities have criticised not only the compulsory registration, but high numbers required for any community to register, state control over religious education within religious communities, a ban on teaching religion to children under 7, a limit on the number of mosques and a ban on foreigners leading religious communities. Davlatov said it is "too early" to discuss such specific provisions, insisting that "it is possible" that the draft will be modified in the light of comments from religious communities. He had no timetable for when the draft will get final government approval and when it will go to parliament.

TAJIKISTAN: Most repressive religion law in Central Asia drafted

Tajikistan's parliament is to debate a proposed Law on Religion which, if passed, would be the most repressive of all the Central Asian religion laws. The draft was prepared by the state Committee for Religious Affairs. Muslim, Russian Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant and Jehovah's Witness leaders have all told Forum 18 News Service of their deep concerns over many aspects of the draft Law. Amongst the violations of international human rights standards that the Law proposes are: a ban on unregistered religious activity; the highest threshold in the CIS for numbers of citizens to register a religious community; restricting the numbers of mosques; banning evangelism or proselytism; banning the teaching of religion to all children under 7; state control over who can teach religion within religious communities and their education; state control of organising Muslim pilgrimages to Mecca; and a ban on foreigners – such as Catholic priests – leading religious communities.