12/19/2019 Tajikistan (International Christian Concern) – Early on December 18, Tajik Pastor Bakhrom Kholmatov, was released from prison. Kholmatov was the pastor of Good News of Grace Protestant Church in Khujand, Tajikstan up until an incident that led to his arrest in April 2017.
Secret police, also known as the National Security Committee, raided the church nearly three years ago where the congregation was harassed and tortured. Several church members later lost their jobs or faced repercussions from the incident. Kholmatov was arrested on unspecified charges and later charged for possession of the book More Than a Carpenter and a book of worship songs.
Kholmatov was sentenced in July 2017 for “singing extremist songs in church and so inciting religious hatred”. Kholmatov’s release from the Tajik prison comes 3 months earlier than originally planned in March 2020. He has since returned home to his wife and three children. His early release is considered a win for religious freedom and Christian expression of faith. However, the trends of oppression still cause concern.
A Khujand official commented that the courts were “not prejudiced against him as a Christian… All religions are equal and free in Tajikistan. He violated the law and therefore was tried”.
Near the time that the Tajik pastor was arrested, several other churches were raided and closed. In late 2018 Tajikistan also passed new amendments that limit the religious education of children, including their attendance at church worship meetings and importation of religious literature. Tajikistan ranked 29 on Open Door’s World Watch list for 2019 and also is included in the Tier 1 Countries of Particular Concern, as recommended by USCIRF.
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