TAJIKISTAN : RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE NEEDS TO BE HALTED
(By Anneta Vyssotskaia)
9/12/2006 Tajikistan (World Evangelical Alliance) Tajikistan is a beautiful mountainous country bordered by Afghanistan , Uzbekistan , Kyrgyzstan and China . Its population is reaching seven million of whom 40 per cent are children under 16.
It has a rich cultural heritage but a very poor economic situation due to the 1991-97 civil war followed by a few years of famine. Of all the former Soviet republics it is the poorest with over 60 per cent of its people living below the poverty line. Because of the difficult economic situation many people work for their living in
Some 97 per cent of the people are Sunni Muslims. The main Christian churches are Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic, with Protestant Christians about 0.02 per cent of the population. Most of the country's Christians are not from the local Tajik population but from ethnic minorities like Russians and Germans. Since 1991
the Church in Tajikistan has experienced considerable growth.
Though Tajikistan is officially a secular state the government strongly supports Sunni Islam, while the religious minorities are either persecuted or heavily restricted in their activities, especially in their outreach to the ethnic Tajik population.
However a growing number of ethnic Tajiks are converting to Christianity in both Tajikistan and Russia . Young Tajiks especially are open to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as well as women in difficult life situations who come to the churches seeking help and compassion. Some churches have access to prison work where former criminals have become committed Christians.
When ethnic Tajiks become Christians they are ostracised by their families and community as 'traitors' to the Islamic faith, even though it is not prohibited by law. Local Muslims regard the missionary activities of the churches negatively, resulting sometimes in outbursts of violence against Christians. Despite all this the number of ethnic Tajik believers continues to grow.
Since July 2005 the activities of non-Islamic religious bodies have been increasingly restricted or banned. In March 2006 it emerged that the parliament was due to consider a new tremendously restrictive law on religion which also seriously violated freedom of conscience. The churches' appeals to the Tajikistan government and various human rights groups helped to postpone its consideration. (The president is just reported to have decided that no changes will be made until the 6 November elections have been held, which highlights their importance as a prayer point.)
A major concern is the draft law would prohibit any activities of non-registered religious organisations. Those currently registered would have to re-register in accordance with the new law, resulting in the closure of the many unable to meet the changed requirements. It has been very difficult for a church to get registration in Tajikistan but under the proposed law it would be almost impossible.