A new religion law in Tajikistan made it harder for members of religious minorities to practice their faith in the predominantly Muslim country.
From January 2018, changes to the Religion Law gave the government greater power and control over religious communities, reports Oslo-based news agency Forum 18.
The Baptist calendars only had Bible verses on them. Unfortunately, this means that our authorities consider that the Bible is an alien book in Tajikistan. —anonymous Tajik Christian
The State Committee for Religious Affairs and Regulation of Traditions, Ceremonies and Rituals (SCRA) now demands religious groups to submit “all kinds of information on the number of their members, finances and activities.”
SCRA officials have raided religious gatherings and interrogated members for long hours, one of which lasted 14 hours which caused the detainee to suffer a stroke. Those who were interrogated were forced to sign a form stating that they were not tortured during the process even when some of them have been tortured.
In December 2018, Mukhiddin Tukhtakhojayev, the SCRA official for non-Muslim communities, made an unannounced visit to a religious community to demand information. He noticed some children under the age of 10 during the gathering who were meeting their parents briefly. A few days later, the leaders of the religious community were demanded to provide a written statement as to why the children were present during the meeting. The community was also fined equivalent to almost eight months’ average wage.
In the same month, customs officials confiscated and destroyed 5,000 calendars with New Testament verses, reports Radio Free Europe. The state-registered Baptist church that imported the calendars were fined equivalent to about four months average wage for “producing, distributing, importing, or exporting religious literature and items of a religious nature which have not passed through the compulsory prior state religious censorship.”
“The Baptist calendars only had Bible verses on them,” said a local worshiper. “Unfortunately, this means that our authorities consider that the Bible is an alien book in Tajikistan.”
Customs official Rahmonali Rahimzod said, “Following the conclusion of linguistic experts in the Culture Ministry that found elements of propaganda of an alien faith, the calendars were confiscated.” He added that Tajiks are free to join any religious group, but the law bans the importation of religious literature into the country without the prior approval of the Culture Ministry.
SCRA spokesperson Afshin Mukim also said the calendars were confiscated because they had religious propaganda messages in them. He claimed that the Baptist population in the country is less than the number of calendars being imported.