|TAJIKISTAN: Further administrative penalties punish religious activity
Basic freedom of religion, such as meeting for worship or teaching your children about faith, is being restricted for Christians and others in Tajikistan. Under current rules no child under the age of seven can receive a religious education, and adults wishing to receive religious education have to ask permission from the government to go abroad and study. One government official said, “Yes, yes, often some of these feather-brained individuals just want to go abroad with such excuses.”
|By Mushfig Bayram|
08/28/2012 Tajikistan (Forum18)-Members of one religious community, who asked not to be named for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 on 18 August that “even though within the last year after the new provisions to the Religion Law were added, the authorities did not particularly punish religious communities” they are “afraid now that the State Committee and other authorities will begin to punish them” since the corresponding penalties were introduced. “The Religion Law and the administrative penalties totally violate believers’ rights,” they said.
Members of several Protestant communities, who similarly wished to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 that the new Administrative Code penalties – like the harsher 2009 Religion Law and its 2011 amendments – violate their rights and religious freedoms.
A leader of one Protestant Church called the changes to the Religion Law and the Administrative Code “absurd” and “draconian”. The leader told Forum 18 on 22 August that “such laws disturb all without exception”. “Under the guise of suppressing religious extremism in Tajikistan, the authorities use crude methods.” The changes in the laws “directly infringe the rights of religious minorities, in particular of Christians,” the leader said. “It is not clear what the authorities want from Christians in the area of religious education. There are no officially recognised Christian educational institutions in Tajikistan.”
Mukhtarov of the SCRA and Usmon Akhunov, Head of the Legal Department of Parliament’s Lower Chamber, both denied to Forum 18 that the Religion Law or the new punishments are restrictive or limiting. “Parliament did not see any violation of rights, and so adopted these changes,” Mukhtarov claimed.
Fines for unlicensed religious education
Added to the Administrative Code was a new Article 474-2 (Violation of the Religion Law’s provisions on the order of receiving religious education abroad by citizens of Tajikistan). This imposes fines for those involved in religious education abroad without state approval of between 50 and 100 FIs.
The Religion Law’s Article 8, Part 4 allows Tajik citizens to receive religious education only from State-licensed religious educational institutions. The new provisions of Article 8 introduced in 2011 severely restrict receiving of religious education in foreign countries. This is permitted “only after receiving religious education in the Republic of Tajikistan and with the written consent of the authorised organs of State Religious Affairs and of State Education”, while “the order of receiving religious education by citizens of Tajikistan in foreign countries is determined by the Government of Tajikistan”.
Article 8 also does not allow children under seven to receive religious education. Children aged between 7 and 18 can receive it only with the written consent of their parents or guardians and only in their free time from school or state education programmes.
One Protestant leader from Dushanbe, who asked not to be named for fear of state reprisals, complained to Forum 18 on 22 August that “Christians, especially now, will be compelled to go abroad for religious education, since there are no licensed Christian schools in the country.” The leader added that “exorbitant fines will await those who go abroad for religious studies without state authorisation.”
Akhunov of the Parliament defended the State’s policy of bringing religious education under state control. “Like in the countries of Europe and the West, and in any other country, we need to have order in the area of religious education,” he told Forum 18 on 24 August. However, Akhunov could not tell Forum 18 which countries of the world oblige their citizens to ask for permission for religious education.
Asked why citizens of Tajikistan must receive permission from the state to go abroad for religious education, Akhunov was dismissive: “Yes, yes, often some of these feather-brained individuals just want to go abroad with such excuses.”
Mukhtarov of the SCRA played down the concerns of religious communities, claiming that “we have not had problems in this regard so far”. Asked how members of religious communities without officially recognised educational establishments in Tajikistan – such as Christians – can receive religious education, while the Religion Law demands one can go abroad for religious studies only after receiving such education in Tajikistan first, Mukhtarov claimed: “No one has asked us yet. Let them come, and we will issue permissions for any Christians.” Mukhtarov did not comment on whether or not that would be by-passing the Law.
Fines for teaching religion in schools and private homes
Also added to the Administrative Code was a new Article 474-3 (Educational and preaching activity by religious communities). This punishes “Carrying out of educational and preaching activity by religious communities in institutions of pre-school, secondary school, primary professional, secondary professional and higher professional education, as well as in residential buildings or homes of citizens” with a fine of between 30 and 40 FIs.
Akhunov and Mukhtarov did not comment on why religious communities should not teach or preach in schools. However, Mukhtarov tried to explain the seeming contradiction between the Religion Law’s Article 20, Part 3 and Article 23, Part 3, where the former declares that religious rites and rituals can be conducted in residential buildings or private homes, while the latter declares that no teaching or preaching can take place in homes of citizens.
Mukhtarov claimed that the Religion Law’s Article 20, Part 3 deals with religious festivals, and that “they can be celebrated in the homes of believers”, while Article 23, Part 3 deals with repeated religious activity in the same home. “Preaching once or twice in one home will not constitute a violation, but if it is repeated several times then it will be fined.”