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5/25/2023 Tajikistan (International Christian Concern) – A 72-year-old man was recently released from prison in Tajikistan after serving more than four years for sharing his faith. 

Shamil Khakimov, a Jehovah’s Witness, was arrested for “inciting religious hatred and being in possession of religious materials.”  While in prison, Khakimov was routinely denied medical treatment for his pre-existing health conditions, leading to a severe case of gangrene in his legs and feet. 

In 2007, the Tajik government banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses sect because of its emphasis on proselytizing. Since then, several members have been arrested or detained for practicing their religious beliefs. 

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon signed an amendment in 2020, reducing the jail penalty for “religious hatred” charges from five years to ten days, or an administrative fine. At that time, Khakimov had already served two years of his 7.5-year sentence. 

At the news of Khakimov’s release, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) stated, “The government of Tajikistan stole four years of life and freedom from a peaceful, elderly man who only sought to express and live his religion according to his conscience … The government of Tajikistan’s religious freedom violations have become so egregious that the world is beginning to take notice.” USCIRF also called “for the release of all other prisoners of conscience detained in Tajikistan.”

Like followers of the Jehovah’s Witnesses sect, Christians face extreme persecution in Tajikistan — authorities closely watch and discriminate against them.

In May 2022, Tajikistan senior state religious affairs official Sulaymon Davlatzoda told Protestant church leaders that the government would no longer register new churches. And anyone under 18 was prohibited from practicing their religion or taking part in church activities. 

Given the deteriorating situation for religious minorities in Tajikistan, the U.S. Dept. of State designated Tajikistan as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for the past seven years. This designation allows the United States to impose measures that hold Tajikistan accountable for its violations of religious freedom, including issuing sanctions on government officials who engage in these discriminatory acts. 

The Religion Law, passed in 2009 by the Tajikistan government, makes all faith practices illegal without having expressed permission from the government.  

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