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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.

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