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15 August 2006

CHINA: Xinjiang - Strict control of China's Uighur Muslims continues

In China's north-western Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, control over Islam continues to be much stricter than over other religions, Forum 18 News Service has found. However, the authorities' control over mosques used by Dungans – a Chinese Muslim people - is less strict than over mosques used by Uighurs. Many Uighurs are Muslims, and their religiosity is often closely connected with separatism. Pressure – for example on the texts of Friday sermons, and attempts to force schoolchildren and state employees such as teachers to abjure Islam – is applied more strictly in the north of the region. There is also a ban in Xinjiang on the private Islamic religious education of children. In response, Forum 18 has noted that Uighur parents often take their children to other parts of China, where they can study freely at a medresseh. Islamic movements such as Sufism and Wahhabism are repressed, and the authorities are attempting to assimilate Uighurs through economic inducements. This policy, Forum 18 has found, has made some impact amongst Uighur Muslims.

18 July 2006

CENTRAL ASIA: Religious intolerance in Central Asia

In June 2006, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) held a "Tolerance Implementation Meeting on Promoting Inter-Cultural, Inter-Religious and Inter-Ethnic Understanding," in Kazakhstan. In a paper for the 11 June NGO Preparatory Conference, Igor Rotar of Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org looked at the reality of religious intolerance in Central Asia. This vital issue must be considered by examining the concrete reality of state policy that restricts the rights of believers of one or another confession, and religious intolerance in everyday life. It is sadly impossible to avoid the conclusion that many states in Central Asia deliberately pursue a policy which violates international religious freedom standards - despite the many fine-sounding statements made by these same states at OSCE and other conferences.

12 July 2006

KYRGYZSTAN: New law to restrict religious freedom?

An official of Kyrgyzstan's state Religious Affairs Committee has told Forum 18 News Service that the Religion Law could soon be amended to restrict evangelism or proselytism. "I hope that the new draft of the Law will be as close as possible to international standards," But, "we have to take local reality as our starting point," Shamsybek Zakirov told Forum 18. He expressed concern about anger from local Muslims in southern Kyrgyzstan, directed at the Religious Affairs Committee and local Protestants at Protestant evangelism. Zakirov confirmed statements made by Pentecostal Pastor Dzhanybek Zhakipov to Forum 18 that pressure by the authorities on local Protestants has increased. Government minister Adakhan Madumarov today (12 July) was reported as also indicating that the Religion Law may be tightened. The problem of intolerance of Christians and other religious minorities – leading to violent attacks and even murders – is widespread in Central Asia.

8 June 2006

TAJIKISTAN: Council of Ulems – an instrument of state control

Some Muslims have expressed concern to Forum 18 News Service over the role of the Council of Ulems (theologians), a body close to the authorities which is seeking to exert control over all mosques and is pushing to receive 30 per cent of their income. Although in theory mosques choose their imams who are then confirmed by the Council, in practice the Council names them – and removes those the authorities do not like. One Dushanbe imam told Forum 18 that a month ago two imams who failed to attend a meeting between the mayor and the clergy were forced out. The Council works with the government to approve those allowed to go on the haj to Mecca and issued a controversial fatwa in 2004 (enforced by the police) banning women from mosques. "The Council of Ulems is completely dependent on the authorities and so there is no doubt that it was simply doing what it was told by the government," Hikmatullo Saifullozoda of the Islamic Revival Party complained to Forum 18. One Council member rejected all criticisms. "Thanks to our president, Tajik Muslims enjoy full rights," he told Forum 18.

7 June 2006

TAJIKISTAN: Has controversial religion bill been postponed?

After telling an OSCE-organised round table discussion in the capital Dushanbe on 15 May that the highly restrictive draft Religion Law would not be adopted "in the near future", Muradulo Davlatov who heads the government's Religious Affairs Committee has declined to say when the new Law drawn up by his office might be adopted and in what form. "The media has caused a stir about a leaked version of the draft Law on Religions which could remain in its drafting stages for another year or two," he told Forum 18 News Service, but said he and his staff were "too busy" for an interview to explain further. Reliable sources told Forum 18 that adoption of the new Law has been postponed at least until the presidential elections in November. Hikmatullo Saifullozoda of the Islamic Revival Party's analytical centre is highly critical of the draft's restrictions, especially the ban on unregistered religious activity and restrictions on the numbers of mosques, complaining to Forum 18 that the current text is "a clear illustration of the authorities' attitude to believers".

30 March 2006

TAJIKISTAN: Religious affairs chief defends repressive draft law

Muradulo Davlatov, head of the Tajik government's religious affairs committee, has rejected criticism by a wide range of the country's religious communities that the current draft of the religion law would substantially restrict their rights. He denied to Forum 18 News Service that requiring religious communities to register before they can function violates religious freedom rights, claiming (wrongly) that Russia requires such registration. Religious communities have criticised not only the compulsory registration, but high numbers required for any community to register, state control over religious education within religious communities, a ban on teaching religion to children under 7, a limit on the number of mosques and a ban on foreigners leading religious communities. Davlatov said it is "too early" to discuss such specific provisions, insisting that "it is possible" that the draft will be modified in the light of comments from religious communities. He had no timetable for when the draft will get final government approval and when it will go to parliament.

22 March 2006

TAJIKISTAN: Most repressive religion law in Central Asia drafted

Tajikistan's parliament is to debate a proposed Law on Religion which, if passed, would be the most repressive of all the Central Asian religion laws. The draft was prepared by the state Committee for Religious Affairs. Muslim, Russian Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant and Jehovah's Witness leaders have all told Forum 18 News Service of their deep concerns over many aspects of the draft Law. Amongst the violations of international human rights standards that the Law proposes are: a ban on unregistered religious activity; the highest threshold in the CIS for numbers of citizens to register a religious community; restricting the numbers of mosques; banning evangelism or proselytism; banning the teaching of religion to all children under 7; state control over who can teach religion within religious communities and their education; state control of organising Muslim pilgrimages to Mecca; and a ban on foreigners – such as Catholic priests – leading religious communities.

13 March 2006

TAJIKISTAN: Madrasa still closed; state registration to be compulsory?

Pulat Nurov, the Islamic affairs specialist of the state Religious Affairs Committee, has told Forum 18 News Service that, in a planned new religion law, "it will clearly be stated that registration of religious organisations is compulsory." If this proves to be the case, Tajikistan will join Belarus, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan in breaking international human rights obligations by making state registration compulsory. Nurov was speaking to Forum 18 about "inconsistencies" in the current 1994 Religion Law in relation to the continued closure of an Islamic religious school in northern Tajikistan. This madrasa is being barred from operation by the authorities, even though there is no legal basis for the government to do this. Nurov admitted to Forum 18 that registration of the madrasa is not compulsory and that no existing state agency can control the teaching of Islam. "These are the annoying defects of the Religion Law adopted back in 1994," he complained.

7 March 2006

TAJIKISTAN: New moves against Muslims in north

Local schoolgirls who refuse to attend lessons without a hijab (Islamic headscarf) risk being denied their school-leavers' certificates (as happened to at least 23 last summer), while four imams were removed from local mosques in late December on government orders, human rights activist Islom Pokosov complained to Forum 18 News Service in Khujand in northern Tajikistan. He said policy towards Muslims in his region had grown harsher in the past six months. Local religious affairs official Abduhakim Sharipov admitted the denial of school-leaver's certificates, but insisted to Forum 18 that children had to abide by school uniform regulations. He said the imams had been sacked for teaching in mosques without a licence from the Muslim Spiritual Administration after the Religious Affairs Committee had discovered these "abuses of authority" during check-ups of the region's mosques. Officially, religious communities are separate from the state, so it remains unclear on what basis the Committee conducted the verification and ordered the imams' removal.

22 February 2006

TAJIKISTAN: Demolition of country's only synagogue begins

Between 7 and 20 February, the city authorities demolished the ritual bathhouse, classroom and kosher butchery of the synagogue in Tajikistan's capital Dushanbe. The only functioning synagogue in Tajikistan, it was built by local Jews a century ago. When a congregation member filmed the destruction officials threatened to break his video-camera, a local resident told Forum 18 News Service. The demolition of the synagogue itself – part of city redevelopment plans – is due to be completed in June, though some fear it could happen sooner. "It is a lie to say that the Dushanbe Jews paid for construction of the synagogue," Shamsuddin Nuriddinov of the city's Religious Affairs Department insisted to Forum 18. "So, if the Jews want to have a synagogue, let them pay for it out of their own funds." The Jewish community – mainly made up of Bukharan Jews – is mostly elderly and poor and cannot afford to build a new synagogue.

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