The Tajikistan government will not register any more churches, the senior state religious affairs official has announced.
Sulaymon Davlatzoda, the Chair of the State Committee for Religious Affairs and Regulation of Traditions, Ceremonies and Rituals, informed Christian leaders of the decision when summoning them to a meeting in the capital Dushanbe in late May.
No reason for this decision was given, reported Forum 18.
Davlatzoda was widely quoted by Christian leaders saying, “We will no longer register any new churches. We will keep the figure of registered churches unchanged from now on.”
A Barnabas contact confirmed that whilst no church in Tajikistan had lost its registration in the past ten years, there have been no churches or Christian organisations registered in that period. Meeting for worship or other religious activities in unregistered premises is illegal.
The government also restricts public prayer by Muslims to within the premises of officially registered mosques and has closed independent, unregistered mosques.
One church leader whose congregation met despite being unregistered said, “[We] are afraid that the authorities can punish us at any time.”
Another added, “We are sad that we are not allowed to open new churches and are banned from sharing our faith.”
At least 15 Protestant groups have sought registration but been denied.
Most churches are restricted to local registration under Article 10 of the country’s Religion Law. This form of registration limits a religious group to conducting activities in the town or city where it is registered. Even the few churches granted nationwide registration are not in practice allowed to register new congregations.
The official also reiterated the government prohibition on children under 18 taking part in public religious activities. One church leader said that they had been warned “that under-18-year-olds cannot have freedom of religion or belief and cannot participate in church activity, and no religious camps are allowed for them”.
The 2011 Parental Responsibility Law bans anyone below the age of 18 from taking part in religious events except funerals. Fines have been issued for non-compliance.
Tajikistan’s population is 90% Muslim, with a small Christian minority. Converts from Islam are persecuted by authorities and often lose their jobs when they become Christians. The “extremism law” (Criminal Code article 189) is used to limit church activities with frequent inspections, intimidation and seizure of church property.
From Barnabas Aid contacts and other sources