Tajik authorities implementing a new religion law are barring children from attending religious services and have burned thousands of calendars with Bible verses.
Amendments to Tajikistan’s Religion Law came into force in January last year, giving the state greater control over religious education, and increase the amount of information religious organisations must pass on to the state.
The State Committee for Religious Affairs and Regulation of Traditions, Ceremonies and Rituals (SCRA) now demands “all kinds of information on the number of members, finances and activities”, a member of a religious community told Oslo-based news agency Forum 18 anonymously, fearing reprisals.
They also gather information about the number of children under the age of 10 attending religious meetings, using the Religion Law and the Parental Responsibility Law to put pressure on parents and religious communities.
In December, Mukhiddin Tukhtakhojayev, the SCRA official responsible for non-Muslim communities, made an unannounced visit to a religious community to obtain information. Forum 18 did not reveal the name of the community, to prevent reprisals.
“While Tukhtakhojayev was present, a few children under the age of 10 came in to the meeting to see their parents briefly,” a human rights defender who wished to remain anonymous, told Forum 18.
“Tukhtakhojayev did not say anything during the meeting, but a few days later summoned the leaders of the religious community for questioning. He then forced them to write a statement explaining the reasons why the children were present in the meeting.”
A few days later, the community was fined the equivalent to almost eight months’ average wage for violating the Religion Law.