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17 December 2008

TAJIKISTAN: Restrictive President-backed Religion Law reaches Parliament

Tajik human rights defenders have expressed concern to Forum 18 News Service about a new draft Religion Law. If adopted, it would impose sweeping controls on religious activity and religious associations, particularly on mosques. The draft text has been sent to Parliament by President Emomali Rahmon, and work on it should be completed within a month. Hikmatullo Saifullozoda of the Islamic Revival Party complained to Forum 18 that "the authorities want to control Islam in their own way." Similarly, River of Life Protestant Church complained that many Christians would be placed "outside the framework of the law." Nargis Zokirova of the Bureau on Human Rights and Rule of Law pointed out that all registered religious organisations will have to re-register by 1 July 2009. Those that fail to do this or who no longer meet new more restrictive registration criteria will lose their legal status, she warned. The OSCE Office in Tajikistan told Forum 18 that "the OSCE would thus be happy to review the existing Law and share its expertise with the government of Tajikistan prior to any parliamentary vote."

8 October 2008

TAJIKISTAN: Four religious communities reject government claims to OSCE

Tajik official claims to an OSCE human rights conference in Warsaw over four religious communities have been contradicted by those communities. Officials categorically denied that the Jehovah's Witnesses, Ehyo Protestant Church and the Abundant Life Christian Centre had been banned. Yet on 29 September a Dushanbe court reaffirmed the ban on the Jehovah's Witnesses imposed in October 2007. "They are not allowed to function in Tajikistan, period," Nazira Dodkhudoeva of the Culture Ministry's Religious Affairs Department told Forum 18. Ehyo church members said that one year after being "suspended", officials still will not approve new wording of their charter and have told them they cannot function until this is finalised. Abundant Life reluctantly halted all its activity in May, it told Forum 18. The Tajik delegation also claimed to the OSCE conference that an alternative plot of land "has been provided" to Dushanbe's Jewish community in recompense for its synagogue, bulldozed earlier this year. Rabbi Mikhail Abdurakhmanov, expressed surprise at the claims. Meanwhile, another Protestant church Grace Sunmin is about to lose its worship building in Dushanbe.

1 September 2008

TAJIKISTAN: Confiscation and destruction of religious property "with undue cause"?

Worship for religious communities is becoming more difficult in Tajikistan's capital Dushanbe, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Several mosques were demolished in 2007 and a synagogue and a Protestant church were demolished with no compensation in summer 2008 amid city rebuilding plans. Two other Protestant churches and the Jehovah's Witnesses have been banned. Now the High Economic Court ruled on 29 August in the long-running dispute over the property of a further Protestant church, Grace Sunmin. But Judge Zulfiyya Yusupova – who had barred international observers from the courtroom - refused to tell Forum 18 what the decision was. The authorities want to seize the building back, despite the fact that the church bought it legally ten years ago. "For nine years we have been working on this place and renovation still continues," one church member told Forum 18. "But now the authorities think the time has come for them to take a ready building away from us." The OSCE office in Tajikistan is concerned about the confiscations and destruction, especially over the lack of transparency and the failure to ensure adequate compensation. "If the City of Dushanbe truly needs the said compounds for its civic and public plans, it should compensate the said religious groups accordingly," it told Forum 18. "Sheer confiscation and destruction of property, if done outside of national and international laws and with undue cause, would be contrary to the OSCE commitments of Tajikistan."

25 June 2008

TAJIKISTAN: Government's Synagogue demolition ends Jewish worship, Protestant church next?

Tajikistan's bulldozing of the country's only synagogue - in the capital Dushanbe - has forced the Jewish community to halt worship and stop its food aid programme. "We do not have a place to hold our worship," Chief Rabbi Mikhail Abdurakhmanov told Forum 18 News Service. "We also have no place to feed the elderly and the poor." Faced with the authorities' determination to destroy the synagogue, the community requested that they be allowed to dismantle the building themselves. Rabbi Abdurakhmanov commented to Forum 18 that every part of the building is sacred, so "it would be an abomination for the Jewish religion to bulldoze the synagogue." However, "the Chief Engineer came to the site and showed his dissatisfaction with the speed of our work and had the remaining wall bulldozed." Yusuf Salimov of the Tajik Presidential Administration (which the community has tried to get compensation from) claimed to Forum 18 that he is not aware of the problem. "They should complain to the higher courts," he said. When Forum 18 told him that Jewish community leaders were already discouraged from doing so, thinking that the authorities were indifferent to their plight, he responded: "Let them write to us about it." The state's next demolition target, as part of a controversial city reconstruction plan, is the Nani-Hayat (Bread of Life) Protestant Church. Church members told Forum 18 they have been given until early July to vacate the building ahead of demolition.

22 May 2008

TAJIKISTAN: When is a "temporary" ban permanent?

Tajikistan in October 2007 "temporarily" suspended two Protestant organisations, Ehyo Church and the Abundant Life Christian Centre, and totally banned the Jehovah's Witnesses. However, there is little sign that officials will lift the suspensions soon, Forum 18 News Service has found. The Jehovah's Witnesses have appealed to the Supreme Court, whose decision is expected in perhaps two months. They particularly object to an "expert opinion" from the Institute of Philosophy and Law. Nazira Dodkhudoeva, of the Culture Ministry's Religious Affairs Department, told Forum 18 "Jehovah's Witnesses are difficult to satisfy." She stated that the Institute's "expert opinion was, of course, that they are a destructive cult." Abundant Life has stopped its activity, complaining to Forum 18 that "we are just tired of the whole process." Dodkhudoeva told Forum 18 that the Ministry will re-register Ehyo Church, but refused to say when. Meanwhile, the authorities have not yet bulldozed the Jewish community's threatened synagogue, and the community has launched a legal appeal.

15 May 2008

TAJIKISTAN: Last days for country's only synagogue?

Tajikistan's only synagogue could be bulldozed in days, its Rabbi, Mikhail Abdurakhmanov, has told Forum 18 News Service. The synagogue has long been under threat, supposedly because of reconstruction in the capital Dushanbe, and in February 2006 the authorities began bulldozing it. A court has now ruled that the 350-strong Jewish community must leave their synagogue by Sunday 18 May, when demolition is threatened to resume. The court refused to accept evidence that the synagogue belongs to the Jewish community, and after the case officials told Rabbi Abdurakhmanov that the community could demolish the synagogue itself if it wanted to save the materials. Officials have repeatedly refused to discuss the case with Forum 18, including whether compensation will be given. The church of the Nani-Hayat (Bread of Life) Protestant Church is also threatened, and although compensation has been offered officials refuse to say how much this will be. Several mosques were demolished in Dushanbe in 2007 because they did not have approval from the Justice Ministry, but no mosques have been demolished in the city in 2008.

27 November 2007

TAJIKISTAN: Why is a new Religion Law needed?

Today (27 November), 24 religious organisations in Tajikistan have formally complained about the latest draft of a controversial proposed new Religion Law. Despite the proposals for a new Law having been repeatedly strongly criticised by Tajik organisations and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Secretary of Tajikistan's Public Council is unable to explain why a new Religion Law is necessary. "Well, look at the new draft and you'll understand it yourself," he told Forum 18 News Service. The 24 religious organisations insist that the draft Law directly or indirectly contradicts not only the Tajik Constitution, but also twelve other laws and legal codes of the country. Viktor Kim, who heads an association of ethnic Korean Tajik citizens, told Forum 18 that "this draft Law needs to be totally discarded and a new one written," he maintained. "So many of the articles in the draft Law are in conflict with the Tajik Constitution. There is no overall logic and concept in the draft, so it makes no sense to adopt it or even work on it."

9 November 2007

TAJIKISTAN: Why were the activities of three religious organisations stopped?

Tajikistan's Culture Ministry has not been able to tell Forum 18 News Service why the charters of the Jehovah's Witnesses, Ehyo Protestant Church and the Abundant Life Christian Centre now need changing and their activities have been stopped. "Nothing changed in the laws. I don't understand why they were registered in the first place," Saidbeg Mahmadulloyev of the Culture Ministry told Forum 18. The Jehovah's Witnesses' charter was registered in 1994 and re-registered in 1997; Ehyo Protestant Church's charter was registered in 2001; and the Abundant Life Christian Centre's charter was registered in 2003. No official objections had previously been made to the charters. The Culture Ministry document banning Jehovah's Witnesses only refers to their sharing of beliefs publicly, yet Mahmadulloyev also told Forum 18 that refusal to do military service or accept blood transfusions were also reasons. However, the Deputy Chief of the Tajik General Staff, Major-General Akbarjon Kayumov, has apparently disagreed with this. The reasons for the suspension of Ehyo Church and Abundant Life are also unclear.

24 October 2007

UZBEKISTAN: Severe literature censorship continues

Uzbekistan continues to maintain severe religious literature censorship, Forum 18 News Service notes. Current examples include two shipments of Jehovah's Witness literature – one in transit for Tajikistan and one intended for an Uzbek congregation – which have been held for more than a year. Other religious communities, such as Protestants and Muslims, also experience problems. A Protestant, involved in sending literature requested by Christians in Uzbekistan, told Forum 18 that most shipments never arrived. "This was either through postal inefficiency or because it was rejected at Uzbek customs," the Protestant stated. "So we have given up trying to send literature." Many who would like to receive literature are afraid of the consequences of being identified by the authorities as Christians, from their receiving literature by post. Uzbek officials are reluctant to discuss the issue, but insist that religious material can only be received after specific approval by the state Religious Affairs Committee. Uzbekistan frequently burns religious literature, including the Bible, confiscated from Muslims, Protestants, Hare Krishna devotees and Jehovah's Witnesses. Even legally imported literature is confiscated in police raids.

18 October 2007

TAJIKISTAN: Jehovah's Witnesses banned

Tajikistan's Jehovah Witnesses have been banned throughout the entire country, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Culture Ministry officials handed the community a banning order stripping it of legal status and "just said we were banned and should stop all our activity. They didn't say much," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. Commenting on the ban, which Forum 18 has seen, a Culture Ministry official stated that the authorities' main complaint was that Jehovah's Witnesses refuse military service. "There is no alternative service in Tajikistan yet, so everyone ought to obey Tajik laws," he told Forum 18. The official then added that they also propagate their faith in public places, "which directly contradicts the Law". The ban follows a check-up by Prosecutor's Office and Religious Affairs officials on all Tajik religious communities. It is not known if the ban is related to the check-up, which resulted in some mosques being closed. Jehovah's Witnesses intend to appeal against the ban.

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