One afternoon in late August, members of Tajikistan’s last real opposition party turned up at the Sheraton Dushanbe Hotel for a news conference, intending to discuss the latest wave of government intimidation they were facing.
Religious life in Kazakhstan features a glaring dichotomy these days. Officials in Astana tout the country as a bastion of toleration, yet they are making it harder for those practicing what are deemed non-traditional faiths to worship openly.
In a plain single-story house in a northeastern suburb of Almaty, Pastor Vasiliy Shegay brings his flock of about 50 followers to their feet in song and prayer on a late Sunday morning. An ethnic Korean from Uzbekistan, Shegay says he left his birthplace for Shymkent, Kazakhstan, seven years ago and later moved to Almaty, where he is pastor of the Sun Bok Ym Pentecostal Church.
A pending court case is refocusing attention on the issue of religious freedom in Azerbaijan. Officials are seeking to revoke the registration of a small Christian community in Baku. If successful, it would mark the first closure of what had once been an officially recognized denomination, since new registration procedures came into force in 2009.
Authorities in Tajikistan are well known for keeping the clamps tightened on anything that smacks of Islamic radicalism, but Dushanbe also is casting a wary eye on proselytizing, non-Muslim sects. Of late, the small Jehovah’s Witnesses community in Tajikistan has become a target of particular interest for officials.
A bill under consideration in Tajikistan would allow the state to take over some responsibility from parents in setting limits for children. While officials argue that the draft legislation is primarily designed to combat delinquency, critics say the state wants to use the legislation to mold the religious outlook of young Tajiks.