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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.

10 October 2007

TAJIKISTAN: Authorities demolish mosques, synagogue and churches under threat

As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan continues, Tajikistan has admitted to demolishing mosques in the capital Dushanbe. "Those places weren't registered at the Ministry of Justice as mosques and they spoiled the architecture of the city," an official of the state Religious Affairs Department told Forum 18 News Service. Haji Nematullo Ahmadzod, the assistant to the imam at one of the demolished mosques, told Forum 18 that a group from the mosque went to Vasif Rustamov, the head of the city administration, to complain, but he refused to receive anyone about the issue. Ahmadzod said the community wants to take their complaint further "but no-one is willing to receive them". A Jewish synagogue in the city remains under threat of demolition, and fears have been expressed within the country that some Christian churches are also under threat. Payam Foroughi of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) expressed concern about the demolitions. "Individuals have the right to gather with their co-believers to worship where and when they choose, all within a reasonable manner," he told Forum 18.

2 July 2007

TAJIKISTAN: "Antidemocratic" draft Religion Law

Tajikistan's latest draft of a proposed new Religion Law has been described to Forum 18 News Service by a Protestant source as "antidemocratic." Religious minorities and human rights activists fear it will be interpreted by officials as banning all unregistered religious activity. The proposed Law bars much legitimate peaceful religious activity, including actions directed at sharing beliefs. Religiously-affiliated political parties are banned, thus apparently banning the opposition Islamic Revival Party. Children younger than 7 are banned from receiving religious education, and young people are forbidden from being "members or participants of religious organisations." All religious education in private houses is forbidden. Only Tajik citizens can lead religious organisations, which causes great concern to the Catholic Church. The main issue concerning religious minorities is legal status, as the draft Law imposes absurdly stringent registration requirements and exceptionally high numbers of signatures to apply for legal status.

2 July 2007

TAJIKISTAN: Draft Religion Law causes "deep anxiety"

Tajikistan's religious minorities have expressed "deep anxiety" about the country's latest draft Religion Law, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. They fear the draft Law will make it almost impossible for any non-Muslim religious communities to gain legal status. The government is currently refusing to accept new legal status applications. A joint letter of concern to the Tajik President and parliament has been signed by 22 religious minorities, including the Baha'is, the Catholics, Baptists, Pentecostals, Adventists, Lutherans, and other Protestant denominations. Although the draft Law limits the number of mosques, the officially-backed Muslim leadership refuses to comment on the Law, referring all Forum 18's enquiries to the government. The OSCE is critical of the draft Law's "over-intensive state control on religion and religious activities" and is working with the government, civil society, and all religious organisations to enable a Law which will meet Tajikistan's international commitments.

7 December 2006

UZBEKISTAN: State bars haj pilgrims from pilgrimage

Uzbekistan is restricting the number of haj pilgrimages – a requirement for all able-bodied adult Muslims who can do so – to some 20 per cent of the country's total possible number of pilgrims, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Controls on pilgrims have been significantly increased, with potential pilgrims having to be approved by local Mahalla committees, district administrations, the NSS secret police and the state-run Haj Commission. "The authorities are deliberately giving a lower quota in regions of Uzbekistan where there are more believers," an Uzbek Muslim told Forum 18. "It would be better if most Uzbek pilgrims were elderly" the state-controlled Muftiate told Forum 18. Turkmenistan imposes the strictest Central Asian controls on haj pilgrims. Apart from Kazakhstan, all the other Central Asian states also ban non-state organised haj pilgrimages. In Kyrgyzstan last year, there were complaints that Kyrgyz places were taken by Chinese Muslims on false passports.

14 November 2006

KAZAKHSTAN: Punished for preaching in mosques

Members of the Tabligh Jama'at international Islamic missionary organisation face increased fines across Kazakhstan for trying to give lectures in mosques without state registration, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Provisions in Kazakh law punish "missionary activity" without special permission. Also punishable is any activity by religious communities that do not have registration, with Baptists and other Protestants so far bearing the brunt of such fines. Secret police official Askar Amerkhanov denied to Forum 18 that the Kazakh authorities now regard Tabligh as extremist: "Tabligh's problem is that its supporters are preaching without having registered with the authorities." Tabligh supporter Murad Mynbaev told Forum 18 in Almaty that the group does not attribute its problems to the central Kazakh authorities but to local authorities "who in their ignorance think we are a political organisation".

27 September 2006

KYRGYZSTAN: Mob goes unpunished as intolerance of religious freedom rises

Intolerance of religious freedom – notably that of Christians – is growing among people in south Kyrgyzstan, Forum 18 News Service has found. Two months after a July mob attack on his home in a southern village, in which religious literature including Bibles were burnt, Protestant pastor Zulumbek Sarygulov has told Forum 18 he still fears for the lives of himself and his family. The police chief – three of whose officers witnessed the attack and took no action – denies a hospital report that Sarygulov suffered two broken fingers and was beaten up, as does Shamsybek Zakirov of the state Religious Affairs Committee. Zakirov and the local imam state that Pastor Sarygulov should leave his home and close the church "so as not to provoke the situation". Religion Law amendments are being drafted by a parliamentary deputy, Kamchybek Tashiev, who is hostile to religious freedom. Among proposed new restrictions will be an article punishing those who "offend the feelings of citizens who belong to another religion".

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