14 January 2004
In the wake of the shooting to death late on 12 January of Baptist pastor and missionary Sergei Besarab, who was gunned down while he prayed, fellow Baptist pastor Rashid Shamsizade has told Forum 18 News Service it is too early to determine whether he was killed because of his religious activity. However, Besarab, a reformed criminal, had been working in the northern town of Isfara in a district noted for the devoutness of its Muslim population. Only a week before his death, a local paper published an attack on Besarab's missionary work. A deputy interior minister is leading the investigation into the killing.
20 November 2003
In its survey analysis of the religious freedom situation in Tajikistan, Forum 18 News Service reports on the confusion that leads to officials wrongly insisting that registration of religious communities is compulsory. Unregistered religious communities do encounter difficulties with the authorities, but Forum 18 has been told that excesses "are not as a rule state policy, but simply the arbitrary actions of local officials." Compared to neighbouring Uzbekistan, Tajikistan generally follows a more lenient policy towards unregistered religious communities. This may be because Tajikistan, after a civil war, is not able to exert such harsh controls as Uzbekistan can. The Tajik authorities are most concerned with controlling Muslim life, because Muslims make up more than 90 per cent of the country's population, and because of the aftermath of the civil war. The possibility exists that government pressure on believers may intensify in the near future, under a proposed new law on religion.
12 November 2003
Forum 18 News Service has found during a visit to Tajikistan's remote and mountainous eastern region that the parts which were governed by compulsory Shariah law during the mid-1990's civil war have now returned to secular Tajik law. Muslims now follow Shariah law only if they choose to do so and the days when local people were forced by armed Tajik opposition groups to pray in mosques are over. Until the year 2000 fighters of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan lived in parts of the region, but they then under pressure crossed into Afghanistan. Forum 18 has also found that in the distinctly Ismaili part of the region there are no Ismaili prayer houses. However, local people do not perceive a need for prayer houses as they can pray at home.
18 September 2003
China's tens of thousands of Ismaili Muslims - ethnic Tajiks concentrated in the north western Xinjiang region - are isolated from the rest of the worldwide Ismaili community, Forum 18 News Service has learnt on a visit to the remote region. The Chinese authorities allow only one Ismaili mosque to function in Xinjiang's Tajik Autonomous District, and children under 18 are not allowed to attend. The mosque's state-appointed imam, Shakar Mamader, admitted that the Chinese authorities do not allow the Aga Khan, the hereditary leader of the Ismaili community, to provide aid to China's Ismailis. "There is absolutely no need for such help as the central government provides very substantial funding to the region," he claimed to Forum 18.
2 September 2003
Unregistered mosques in the capital Dushanbe may no longer broadcast the call to prayer through loudspeakers, local Muslims told Forum 18 News Service, but officials denied that any decree had been issued. Shamsuddin Nuriddinov of the religious affairs department of the city administration admitted to Forum 18 that the authorities had "requested" the leaders of unregistered mosques not to use loudspeakers for the call to prayer. Nuriddinov believes unregistered Muslim places of worship cannot be regarded as mosques and are operating illegally.
28 August 2003
When Tajikistan's only synagogue is demolished next year in the capital Dushanbe as part of city reconstruction plans, the Jewish community – which built it a century ago - does not know if it will get compensation. "A general reconstruction of the city centre is being planned, and unfortunately our building turned out to be in that sector," Rabbi Mikhail Abdurakhmanov told Forum 18 News Service. "However, the authorities could have held a meeting with the Jews and avoided demolishing the only synagogue in the whole of Tajikistan." Rabi Aliyev of the government's committee for religious affairs told Forum 18 he did not know either if compensation is planned.
31 July 2003
Following a speech by President Emomali Rakhmonov stating that three suspected Tajik terrorists have been held by the USA in Guantanamo Bay, the operation of a medressah (Islamic educational institute) in northern Tajikistan is being prevented, 152 mosques were closed down, loudspeakers removed from many and 20 per cent of Imams removed from office, Forum 18 News Service has learned. State officials claimed that there were too many mosques. There have also been claims that the authorities compel written confirmation from young couples that they will marry in the "European manner", with music and dancing. This claim has been denied by the local official dealing with religious affairs.
29 July 2003
A Baptist has been fined five times the minimum wage (57 Norwegian Kroner, 8 Euros or 8 US Dollars) for "talking to passers-by about God", and threatened with property confiscation if he does not pay the fine, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The fine has been imposed even though Tajikistan's 1994 law "On Religion and Religious Organisations" does not prohibit either religious gatherings in private homes or street evangelisation.
23 May 2003
Media interest in the case of two Jehovah's Witnesses fined for leading a religious meeting in Tursun-Zade raided by the police has provoked serious concern among the local authorities, Forum 18 News Service has learned. They had hoped the case against them – first reported by Forum 18 on 28 April and picked up by a local television station - would go unremarked by the outside world. "We hope the authorities will not take it out on us because our case has unexpectedly received such wide publicity," one of the two, Sukhrob Maksudov, told Forum 18. The Jehovah's Witnesses expect the Supreme Court to hear their appeal against the sentences in about a month's time.
1 May 2003
Religious leaders know nothing about the amendments to Tajikistan's law on religion which officials expect to be adopted in the second half of the year. "We have only learnt about the proposed changes to the law from you," Said Negmatov of the Islamic Centre told Forum 18 News Service. "My main worry is that the draft law is being prepared behind the scenes without public discussion," Baptist pastor Aleksei Tsirulev declared. Said Akhmedov, chairman of the government's Committee for Religious Affairs, told Forum 18 that under the new law, individual religious communities will need to present a list of 100 members to get registration. While Muslim, Russian Orthodox and Jehovah's Witness representatives said this would not be difficult for them, Tsirulev was concerned, warning that "this will mean that in many towns and villages our fellow believers will be deprived of the opportunity to observe religious rituals".
28 April 2003
Tajikistan's Jehovah's Witness community intends to appeal to the Supreme Court against fines imposed on two of its members on 24 April by a court in Tursun-Zade, a Jehovah's Witness who asked not to be identified told Forum 18 News Service. The two Jehovah's Witnesses, Grigori Putenkov and Sukhrob Maksudov, were fined for leading a religious meeting in a private flat raided by the police. The judge who handed down the fine, Davlatbek Zabirov, defended his decision, telling Forum 18 that Tajikistan's law on religion does not allow anyone to give religious instruction without a licence and that the administrative code sets out punishment for those who violate this provision. "Thus, when I pronounced the sentence, I was working strictly within the law."
22 April 2003
Despite authoritarian rule, high levels of censorship of the local media and periodic barring of access to foreign-based political opposition websites, Central Asia's governments have so far only enacted limited censorship over access to religious websites based outside the region, a Forum 18 News Service investigation has found. Uzbekistan permanently bars access to the London-based website of Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir, though not to its Pakistan-related site. In several Uzbek Internet cafes, Forum 18 even came across the notice: "Viewing of religious and pornographic sites is forbidden". But with low Internet use in Central Asia and a population too poor to be able to afford access, Central Asia's governments – which to a greater or lesser extent try to control all religious activity - may believe they do not need to impose religious censorship on the Internet.