07/04/2007, 00.00
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Draft law to ban religious minorities

The Tajik parliament is discussing a bill which would deny children younger than seven the right to a religious education and ban religious education in the home. Only religious groups with more than 400 members in each of the country’s districts could register, effectively excluding Christians who are just a few thousands.

Dushanbe (AsiaNews/F18) – Under Tajikistan’s new draft law on religion, children under the age of seven would not be able to receive a religious education, and all religious education in private home would be prohibited. Only Tajik nationals would be authorised to lead religious organisations, which would need 400 adult members per district to be registered

In response to the bill, 22 religious minorities present in the country, including Baha'is, Catholics and various Protestant denominations, sent a joint letter of concern to the Tajik President Emomalii Rahmon, the Majlisi Oli (Tajikistan’s parliament) and the state Religious Affairs Committee, in which they express their "deep anxiety" over the bill, the Forum 18 News Service reported.

Payam Foroughi, an official at the Dushanbe’s Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Centre, noted that the current draft law prescribes "an over-intensive state control on religion and religious activities.”

If adopted, it would not only require a religious group to have 400 adult members in a district, but they would have to 800 in a city away from Dushanbe and 1,200 in Dushanbe itself.  It would also require 2,000 supporters to sign a registration application to found a monastery. This effectively bars most Christian groups from getting recognition since they have small communities of a few dozen members here and there.

A local source said that there are about 3,000 to 4,000 Protestants. Religions other than Islam also have very few members. It will be almost impossible for any non-Muslim religious group to gain legal status.

Crucially, as well as the statutes and official record of the founding meeting, all the founding members have to give their full names, addresses, dates of birth and confirm that they are Tajik citizens. This would give government officials unfettered control over a group’s activities, including control over “sources of income," and "financial expenditure.”

Still registered religious organisations could set up their own religious education colleges

Fr Carlos Avila, who heads the small Catholic Church in Tajikistan, said that like other participants in the June 28 meeting, Catholics hope that the joint letter to the authorities will help to improve the law and allow it to meet the needs of all religious communities in the country.

Conversely, any “activity having the nature of intellectual, mental or other pressure with proselytising aims” is banned.

Similarly, individuals who hold positions of authority in a religious organisation cannot stand for elected office, and religiously-affiliated political parties are outlawed.

The Religious Affairs Committee must agree before a religious organisation can invite foreigners for religious work in Tajikistan

By contrast, current legislation prohibits banning religious group and requires that official recognition be granted when requested by only 10 adult members.

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