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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."

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