Tajikistan has been added to a US government list of the world’s 16 worst abusers of religious freedom.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), funded by Congress, has censured Tajikistan for “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief,” naming the country one of it’s “countries of particular concern.” In a report released March 20, USCIRF says Dushanbe “suppresses and punishes all religious activity independent of state control, and imprisons individuals on unproven criminal allegations linked to religious activity or affiliation.”
Elsewhere in Central Asia, USCIRF has long classified Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan as “countries of particular concern” (CPC). The commission says it is closely monitoring Kazakhstan. Turkey also joined the CPC list this year.
The annual report offers recommendations to Congress, the secretary of state, and the president. The State Department issues its own yearly report on religious freedom, which takes into consideration the commission’s recommendations, but usually includes a shorter list of countries of particular concern and recommendations for sanctions. In the case of gas-rich Turkmenistan, though it has been on the commission’s CPC list since 2000, the State Department does not include it on its own list. The State Department has designated Uzbekistan, an essential ally in the Afghanistan war, as a CPC since 2006, but since 2009 has waved any punitive action.
This year, the commission graduated Tajikistan from its “watch list” partially because Dushanbe introduced harsh new legislation broadly affecting the country’s faithful, especially the Muslim majority. One new law “even limits parents’ choice of their children’s names.”
In 2011, the Tajik government successfully sought passage of several repressive and vague amendments to the criminal and administrative codes. The changes empower the government to arbitrarily limit the peaceful practice of religion by setting lengthy prison terms for “unapproved” religious activity and placing heavy finds for religious education and expression.
Two new Administrative Code articles went into effect in January 2011 that set new penalties for peaceful religious activity. One article sets onerous fines for “teaching religious knowledge without [state] permission.” Individuals my be fined up to US $800; groups, up to US $1,600; and repeat violations are subject to fines of up to three times these amounts. The 2010 official minimum monthly wage and pension in Tajikistan is US $19. Another article similarly sets onerous fines for the production, distribution, import or export of religious literature that has not passed the compulsory review by state censors. […]
The Parental Responsibility Law went into effect in August 2011. The law bans almost all religious activity by children, including mosque attendance and participation in funerals, but permits participation in approved religious education. The law also restricts children’s religious dress and even limits parents’ choice of their children’s names.
Taken together, the legislation and recent pressure on Muslims suggests Dushanbe has launched an all-out war against Islam. Based on flimsy evidence, courts regularly find practicing Muslims guilty of belonging to terrorist organizations and close mosques. For much of 2010-2011, authorities pressured the families of students studying Islam abroad to call their sons home. Last year, men with beards complained of police harassment. Analysts fear that eventually the efforts will create a groundswell of anger, radicalize otherwise moderate Muslims, and perhaps even provoke violence.