03/26/2009, 00.00
TAJIKISTAN

Tajik president Rakhmon signs law suffocating religious freedom

Even while it was being drafted, the bill was criticized by the OCSE and the U.S. Prompted by the fear of Islamic fundamentalism, it puts under state control any activity connected to faith, institutes censorship of religious publications, and makes the legalization of non-Muslim groups almost impossible.

Dushanbe (AsiaNews/Agencies) - A new law that significantly restricts religious freedom was signed today by the president of Tajikistan, Imomali Rakhmon. The new norm, which has been under development since 2006 and will take effect after its official publication, has been criticized since its first appearance by both the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the United States.

In a country in which Muslims represent 95% of 6.5 million inhabitants, bordering on Afghanistan, the main concern of the government - which is distinctly authoritarian - is that of stopping fundamentalist and extremist tendencies. In January, the Salafi branch of Islam was outlawed, and publications referring to it were banned.

The extensive document bans religious education for children under the age of 7, and any religious instruction in private homes. It imposes preventive censorship on religious literature, and restrictions on religious services, which must be held in places approved by the state. Only Tajik citizens, moreover, can head religious groups, and non-Muslim religious groups cannot be registered if they have fewer than 400 faithful in rural areas, 800 in urban areas, and 1,200 in the capital. Foreign missionaries are required to live in one place for at least ten years before founding new communities.

"People's religious rights are violated in every article of this law," Khikmatullo Saifullozoda tells Reuters. Saifullozoda is a leader of the main opposition Islamic Revival Party, which has no concrete political influence. "It would have been more accurate to call this law not 'Law on the Freedom of Conscience' but "Law on its restriction'."

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