10/08/2021, 09.57
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Dushanbe punishes 'underground' religious formation for children

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Further measures introduced after 2016 ban on private religious schools. Government fears spread of extremist ideas. Young people who went abroad for religious studies forcibly repatriated. New clampdown seen by many Tajiks as a violation of religious freedom.



Moscow (AsiaNews) - Tajikistan has introduced new punitive measures against the "underground" religious education of children. On October 6, deputies of the Madzhilis Namoyandagon, the lower house of parliament, approved some amendments to the penal code, according to which deprivation of liberty for up to three years is foreseen in the case of illegal religious education, including lessons given via the internet.

The amendments are the work of the government; Nusratullo Mirzoyev, first deputy chairman of the State Committee for Security, then presented them to the House. According to his report, "95% of young people who join groups and organizations with radical tendencies received their first education in private religious schools."

In 2019-2020, and in the first 9 months of this year, Tajik authorities detected 1,833 cases of illegal religious training: reported 43 imam-khatiba, 983 illegal ministers of worship, 32 teachers and 17 students. The mullahs received between 200 and 5 thousand somoni (between 20 and 500 euros approximately)  from students for the exercise of worship. 33 parents received administrative sanctions for taking their children to private religious schools.

Under the new regulations, fines of between 48,000 and 72,000 somoni are applied for infringements regarding religious education. If the already fined citizen falls into the same violation within a year of the sanction, he can be imprisoned for up to three years. Mirzoyev explained the danger of online courses, for which there is also the possibility of arrest and imprisonment for up to three years.

The ban on private religious schools has been in effect in Tajikistan since 2016. For the government it is a response to the danger of radicalization and religious extremism. Authorities believe that the extremist elements of these forms of teaching can ruin the mentality of Tajik youth, even if only by participating in communal prayers in private buildings, which are difficult to control.

As early as 2011, regulations were passed according to which religious formation abroad is permitted only by agreement with the authorities, and only after completion of formation courses at home.

At the time President Emomali Rakhmon warned that Tajiks in foreign madrasas "do not become mullahs, but terrorists". According to information from the Religious Affairs Committee, since 2010 the government has forcibly repatriated over 3,000 Tajik citizens who received religious training through illegal routes in Yemen, Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.

A few weeks ago, as it was disclosed yesterday, 10 Tajik children were returned home from Bangladesh, where they were taking courses of study at a religious school. The authorities have placed the youngsters in a state-run boarding school, where they will have to spend a period of "readaptation".

The father of one of the boys, Mahmadsharif Saidov, reported to Radio Ozody that his 13-year-old son S.M. had been forcibly taken by the state. The father had taken him from the town of Bahdat in 2015 after the local high school was closed. From Almaty in Kazakhstan, father and son had traveled to Dubai, and from there to Bangladesh, because "I wanted my son to become a reader of the Koran." After their return, the son lived for some time at his parents' house, only to be transferred to the government facility "for difficult boys." His parents are not allowed to see him, let alone bring him home at least on weekends.

The reasons for the new clampdown on religious extremism have been explicitly linked to the new situation created after the Taliban took power in Kabul. Many Tajik Muslims, however, believe that these restrictions represent a violation of their rights to freedom of conscience and education.

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