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.
Tajikistan has imposed ever-tighter controls on religious activity in recent years. Jehovah's Witness activity was banned entirely in 2007, while officials claim that the Muslim Jamaat Tabligh movement was banned in 2006 (the ban does not appear to have been published). In 2009 the Salafi school of Islamic thought was banned. A restrictive new Religion Law was adopted in 2009 involving new limits on the numbers of mosques and restrictions on preaching. The new Law required the re-registration of all religious communities amid tight new restrictions. Dozens of members or alleged members of various Muslim movements have been given long prison terms (see F18News 19 May 2010 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1446).
The latest moves come amid a crackdown on private teaching of Islam and government pressure on parents of students studying Islam abroad to bring them home. "Teaching religious knowledge without [state] authorisation" is an offence under Article 474 of the Code of Administrative Offences, and a number of such cases have been brought in recent months (see F18News 2 September 2010 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1483).
Islamic Revival Party told to stop prayers in their building
Officials of the State Religious Affairs Committee have ordered the Islamic Revival Party (IRP) to stop praying at their Dushanbe headquarters. The order came during a 12 August visit to the party headquarters by Abdurahim Kholiqov, Chair of the Committee, with his officials, together with officials from the Justice Ministry and National Security Committee (NSC) secret police, the IRP's Hikmatullo Saifullozoda told Forum 18 on 19 August.
"We agreed that Party members would be allowed to carry on prayers during the holy month of Ramadan, and hold talks afterwards," he added. "We have a cultural centre at the headquarters, and hold prayers in that centre. We do not officially call it a mosque but do pray in it. However, the officials take a different view on this."
The visit came on the first full day of Ramadan. Forum 18 has been unable to find out what will happen when Ramadan ends on 9-10 September.
Mansur Sayfutdinov, Senior Advisor to President Emomali Rahmon, insisted to Forum 18 that according to the law no political organisation may establish a mosque. Asked that why the IRP members may not hold prayers in their office given that, according to Islamic canons, prayers do not have to be said in a mosque, Sayfutdinov referred Forum 18 to the Religious Affairs Committee.
Officials at the Religious Affairs Committee refused to discuss the issue with Forum 18.
Loudspeakers banned for Muslim call to prayer
Just before Ramadan began, the authorities in Panjakent in Sughd Region prohibited Muslim prayers via loudspeakers. The authorities said that "it could cause confusion and disturbs the peace," RFE/RL's Tajik bureau reported on 10 August.
Presidential Advisor Sayfutdinov said that this was done at the request of the local population. "There are also people who are not religious and who would not like to be disturbed by the noise," he told Forum 18. Forum 18 could not independently verify Sayfutdinov's claim.
Forum 18 has been unable to establish whether the ban will continue after Ramadan is over.
Haj restrictions reaffirmed
Abdughaffor Yusupov, head of the Religious Affairs Committee's Haj Department, has reaffirmed that his Committee is maintaining the ban on children taking part in the haj pilgrimage to Mecca, which this year begins in mid-November. The haj pilgrimage is obligatory at least once in their lifetime for Muslims who are able to perform it (there are exemptions, for example for ill health) within Dhu al-Hijja, the twelfth and final month in the Islamic calendar.
In August 2009 ahead of that year's haj, the religious affairs department, then part of the Culture Ministry, announced that no-one younger than 16 nor older than 80 could take part. When government control over religious activity was passed from the Culture Ministry to the new Religious Affairs Committee in the wake of its establishment in March 2010, control of the haj was also transferred to the new body.
Yusupov told RFE/RL on 20 August that only citizens between the ages of 18 and 80 would be able to go on the haj, as well as the umra, the shorter pilgrimage to Mecca that can take place at any other time of the year. He added that the Religious Affairs Committee would record the income of applicants to ensure they could afford it.
He also said that the quota allocated to Tajikistan by the Saudi Arabian authorities has risen this year from 5,000 to 5,500.
Jehovah's Witnesses indefinitely under criminal investigation?
It remains unclear at what stage the reopened criminal case against 17 local Jehovah' Witnesses in the Sughd Region is. The case was originally brought in September 2009 to punish them for a meeting held in a private home in June 2009, but was dropped on 27 October 2009 when prosecutors found no evidence of any criminal offence.
However, the case was revived in May. The Sughd regional department of the NSC secret police sent letters to the 17, warning them that criminal cases against them were re-opened for additional investigation. The letter, signed on 7 May by NSC Senior Lieutenant F. Kurbonov, gave no reasons for renewing the investigation (see F18News 19 May 2010 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1446).
The case claims that the 17 violated Criminal Code Article 159 ("organisation of political parties, social organisations or religious organisations infringing the personality and rights of citizens") and Article 189, Part 2 ("inciting national, racial, or religious hostility"). A conviction under Article 159 is punishable by up to three years' imprisonment, while a conviction under Article 189, Part 2 is punishable by imprisonment of from five to ten years.
On 19 August, Investigator Kurbonov refused once more to tell Forum 18 when the investigation is likely to be completed and when the case might reach trial, referring Forum 18 – as he had done in May - to the Jehovah's Witnesses' lawyers. Refusing to give any other information, he put the phone down.
Jehovah's Witnesses from Almaty, Kazakhstan told Forum 18 on 19 August that none of the 17 has been summoned for questioning since the case was reopened. (END)
More coverage of freedom of thought, conscience and belief in Tajikistan is at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?query=&religion=all&country=31.
For more background see Forum 18's Tajikistan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1553.
A compilation of Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) freedom of religion or belief commitments can be found at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1351.
A printer-friendly map of Tajikistan is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=tajiki.
2 September 2010
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 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 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.