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Tajikistan Churches Face Closures, Uncertain Future

1/5/2010 Tajikistan (BosNewsLife) – Devoted Christians in several areas of Tajikistan faced uncertainty Tuesday, January 5, over the future of their churches after the former Soviet republic introduced a new religion law that the United States has criticized as highly restrictive.

The Religion Law, which came into forces on New Year’s Day, empowers the government to impose stricter control of religious groups in the former Soviet republic that tolerates only the state-approved version of Islam.

Under the legislation groups that choose not to register with authorities or fail to gain re-registration will become illegal. All Christian and other “religious organisations” need to provide the national government with written confirmation of their existence from their local administration.

Christians say however that local officials “have been slow” at issuing confirmation documents or have “deliberately” refused to do so for groups that they did not like.

Less than half of the religious organizations known to authorities have been registered, according to estimates by the Culture Ministry’s Head Department for Religious Affairs (HDRA).

The new law also imposes censorship on religious literature and restricts performing “rituals” to state-approved venues, making it even more difficult for evangelical missionaries and other Christians to openly evangelize.

In Tajikistan, religion has been a particularly thorny issue since President Imomali Rakhmon defeated an alliance of Islamists and liberals in a 1990s civil war.

Rakhmon has defended his decision to sign the controversial legislation and other measures. Worried about the resurgent Taliban militant group in neighboring Afghanistan, he says his main goal is to maintain political and economic stability in his impoverished homeland.


However countries across former Soviet Central Asia, including Tajikistan, have been criticized in the West for using the threat of religious extremism as an excuse to crack down on political dissent and religious groups outside state-sponsored Islam.

“The picture for religious freedom in Tajikistan is growing dim,” said the Commission, which advises the U.S. government on religious freedom in the world. “The passage of this problematic new law could severely limit religious freedoms in Tajikistan,” it added in a recent report.

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