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The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
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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.

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".

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

KYRGYZSTAN: Intolerance against Christians highlighted by murder

The recent murder of an ethnic Kyrgyz convert to Christianity, Saktinbai Usmanov, was the culmination of a long series of intolerant incidents, Forum 18 News Service has found. Usmanov was the only Christian in his village. The intolerance was encouraged by the village Mullah, Nurlan Asangojaev, although most of the attackers were themselves drunk, which is forbidden in Islam. Asangojaev arranged for Usmanov to be banned from community events after his conversion, which is very painful for the traditionally community-centred Kyrgyz. He has also barred Usmanov from being buried in the village cemetery. Mullah Asangojaev has since Usmanov's murder told Forum 18 and others that "I can't offer any convincing proof, but I am sure that Saktinbai was killed by Protestants because he wanted to return to Islam." This is strongly denied by Saktinbai Usmanov's son, Protestant Pastor Ruslan Usmanov, who told Forum 18 that this is a "monstrous slander." There are numerous incidents of intolerance, including official hostility, towards Christian converts from Muslim backgrounds throughout Central Asia, Forum 18 has found.

TAJIKISTAN: Mosque visits and hijabs banned for children

Tajikistan has banned female schoolchildren from wearing the hijab headscarf and, in a secret unwritten instruction, barred children from visiting mosques in school hours, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Some imams in the capital Dushanbe are, to Forum 18's knowledge, interpreting this as meaning that no children should be allowed into mosques at any time. Education Minister Abdudjabor Rahmonov has claimed that wearing the hijab "is unacceptable in secular schools and violates the constitution and a new law on education," even though the Tajik constitution does not bar wearing the hijab. Rahmonov also claimed that many pupils "spend evenings in mosques and do not do their homework." No-one at the Education Ministry or the state Religious Affairs Committee was prepared to discuss the bans, but one official told Forum 18 that the headscarf ban had not been decided by the Religious Affairs Committee, saying that "this decision was evidently taken right at the top."

TAJIKISTAN: Banned church once again operating freely

Despite a closure order from the government's religious affairs committee in April, the pastor of a Korean-led Pentecostal church in the northern town of Khujand says her church has been able to resume its activity. "I don't know whether or not our work has been closed down officially," Larisa Kagai told Forum 18 News Service, "but now, thank God, the authorities are not interfering in our activities." She said she had persuaded the committee to overturn its ban after visiting officials there. A committee official denied to Forum 18 recent reports that it had also banned Baptists and Jehovah's Witnesses, denials backed up by Baptist and Jehovah's Witness leaders. "So far at least, thank God, we have no problems with the authorities," Oleg Pilkevich of Tajikistan's Baptist Union told Forum 18.

TAJIKISTAN: Why was Protestant church ordered closed?

Officials of the government's religious affairs committee have claimed that the Sonmin Grace church in the northern town of Khujand has been ordered closed for violating the law, but have refused to explain their decision to Forum 18 News Service. Yet committee official Madhakim Pustiev admitted: "The activity of the church had annoyed Muslims and some of them asked for the Khujand church to be closed." Preacher Alisher Haidarov said the church is still open at the moment. "The most absurd thing is that we cannot even understand what specific legal violations we are accused of. Our church has existed in Khujand for 11 years and we have never broken any laws," he told Forum 18. The religion committee chairman has called for local authorities to supervise closely the activities of religious organisations.

UZBEKISTAN: Why does government restrict haj numbers?

It remains unclear why the Uzbek government is limiting the number of adult Muslims who can go on the haj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca that Islam requires. This year, only 4,200 of the more than 6,000 Uzbek citizens who wanted to make the pilgrimage were permitted to go, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The numbers are controlled under an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan, by which the Saudis only issue haj visas to Uzbeks whose names are on a list drawn up by representatives of the state Committee for Religious Affairs and the state-controlled muftiate, or Islamic religious leadership. Uzbek state control is further ensured as, unlike in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, where haj pilgrims can travel privately, Uzbek Muslims have to travel to Saudi Arabia by air using only the state-run Uzbek Airways. This cost of these flights is prohibitively expensive for most Uzbeks. The minority Shia Muslim community also experiences problems in making the haj with Sunnis.