TAJIKISTAN: Thoughtcrime banned
In attempts to keep the next generation from being educated on faith, authorities in Tajikistan have instructed Protestant Churches and Muslim Mosques to stop allowing children into worship services. When questioned on the reasons for these instructions, authorities responded, “under the Religion and Parental Responsibility Laws children cannot be taught religion or be involved in religious activity. This is the law of Tajikistan.”
By Mushfig Bayram
1/21/2015 Tajikistan (Forum 18)-Protestant churches warned not to have children in meetings for worship:
The SCRA has warned in writing various Protestant churches that “we will be punished unless we stop having children in our meetings for worship”, a Protestant who wishes to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 on 9 January. These warnings continue the SCRA’s long-standing efforts to implement the restrictive Religion and Parental Responsibility Laws against children, young people and their parents and guardians (see eg. F18News 7 October 2011 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1622).
As noted above, the government has mainly targeted Muslims but in the second half of 2014 this appears to have broadened to encompass Protestants specifically. Forum 18 has spoken to a variety of Muslim and non-Muslim communities (including non-Protestant Christians) and the SCRA’s letters appear to have been sent only to Protestants.
One Protestant Pastor, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 on 20 January 2015 that they knew of various Protestant churches where SCRA officials attended meetings for worship. The officials then warned churches verbally and in writing that children should not attend meetings for worship.
Forum 18 has seen the text of one such written warning from June 2014, stating that unless the Church – which wishes to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals – within one month stops the “violation” of having children in meetings for worship the Church’s activity will be suspended for three months. The Church protested strongly over several months, pointing out that this is a severe violation of the children’s and the Church’s rights as it is against the Constitution as well as international agreements including the Convention on the Rights of the Child signed by Tajikistan.
As the Church stated, among the international human rights standards violated by the Parental Responsibility Law and its implementation is the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Tajikistan acceded to on 26 October 1993 (see F18News 21 July 2011 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1595).
SCRA backs down
After the Church strongly protested, the SCRA did not follow up its threat to suspend the Church’s activity. Children still attend the Church’s meetings for worship.
A well-informed observer suggested to Forum 18 on 21 January that they suspect the SCRA did not punish the Church due to its repeated use of arguments strongly based in international human rights law. This made the SCRA fear that the Church would both not easily capitulate to threats and would make detailed accounts of the authorities’ actions public. The government therefore decided that the costs of repression outweighed the “benefits” they hoped to gain from it.
One Protestant Pastor, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 on 20 January 2015 that he thinks the reason for the SCRA targeting Protestants is that they “actively propagate their faith and the government does not like that and wants it to stop”. He thought the warnings were not implemented “because the SCRA knows it is not right to demand that children cannot attend religious meetings”.
Another Protestant Pastor, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 on 20 January that some Pastors raised the issue at a meeting organised by the SCRA in October 2014. The SCRA official chairing the meeting did not answer the questions and said it can be discussed at another meeting. He promised he would organise such a meeting, but no such meeting has yet been organised.
SCRA Deputy Head Mukhtarov claimed to Forum 18 on 20 January that “not only mosques and Protestant churches were warned that children cannot participate in religious meetings, but all religious communities of Tajikistan were warned”. Told that all the non-Protestant communities Forum 18 has spoken to deny having been warned by the SCRA, Mukhtarov claimed that “the letter have not reached them yet”.
Mukhtarov stated that “under the Religion and Parental Responsibility Laws children cannot be taught religion or be involved in religious activity. This is the law of Tajikistan.” Asked what steps Tajikistan is taking to remove the contradictions between these laws and the country’s international human rights obligations, he suddenly claimed “I do not hear your question clearly”. He then asked Forum 18 to call back but did not answer his phone.