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Tajik authorities are barring children from attending religious services and have burned thousands of calendars with Bible verses following amendments to Tajikistan’s Religion Law came into force in January last year, giving the state greater control over religious education.  The State Committee for Religious Affairs and Regulation of Traditions, Ceremonies and Rituals (SCRA) now demands information on the number of members, finances and activities as well as gathering information about the number of children under the age of 10 attending religious meetings, to put pressure on parents and religious communities.

In December, Mukhiddin Tukhtakhojayev, the SCRA official responsible for non-Muslim communities, made a visit to a religious community to obtain information.  “While he was there, a few children under the age of 10 briefly came in to the meeting to see their parents,” a human rights defender said.  “Tukhtakhojayev did not say anything during the meeting, but a few days later summoned the leaders of the 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 of eight months’ wages for violating the Religion Law.

In the same month, 5,000 calendars with Bible verses, imported by the Baptist Church, were destroyed by custom officials.  The Church was also fined about four months’ wages for “distributing items of a religious nature which have not passed through compulsory state religious censorship”.  A customs official said the inspection had shown the calendars had “elements of propaganda of an alien faith”.  SCRA spokesperson Afshin Mukim said that “propaganda of a religion must be done only within the Church, and the calendars had religious propaganda in them”, and the number of calendars was greater than the number of Baptists in the country.

Tajikistan is a Central Asian country with the highest percentage of Muslims, approximately 97%, but the former Soviet republic is determined to keep Islam under control.  The international religious-freedom watchdog Open Doors says, ‘Islamic oppression’ and ‘dictatorial paranoia’ has made Tajik Christians a target of persecution.  Christian converts from a Muslim background are most vulnerable to persecution in Tajikistan, in particular from family, friends and the community. Non-traditional Christian communities, like the Baptist Church, also suffer from raids, threats, arrests and fines by authorities.

Source: World Watch Monitor