Tajikistan: USCIRF Criticizes Crackdown on Religious Freedom

Nov 2, 2015


Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today criticized the Tajik government’s ongoing efforts to control religious activities, especially those of the country’s majority Muslim population. These efforts include the recent ban of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) due to allegations of extremism, the arrest of some 200 IRPT activists, and the alleged torture and other human rights abuses committed against IRPT detainees. 

The government’s suppression of independent religious activities provides yet another example of the Tajik government using its overly broad extremism law against peaceful and independent Islamic religious activity or affiliation, a counterproductive approach that risks increasing radicalization rather than reducing it.  USCIRF believes that these actions, along with its ban of the IRPT, should guarantee Tajikistan a CPC designation from the State Department, a designation which USCIRF recommends in our 2015 Annual Report.  Official efforts to suppress the IRPT often have been intertwined with government repression of Islamic practice.  USCIRF urges Secretary of State Kerry to raise religious freedom concerns when he arrives tomorrow in Tajikistan,” said USCIRF Chairman Robert P. George.

The legal environment for religious freedom in Tajikistan has deteriorated recently, largely to the implementation of the 2009 religion law which: establishes onerous registration requirements for all religious groups; criminalizes all unregistered religious activity as well as private religious education and proselytism; requires official permission for religious groups to provide religious instruction and communicate with foreign co-religionists; and imposes state controls over the content, publication, and import of all religious materials.

The Tajik government imposes additional restrictions on Muslims such as: limiting the number and size of mosques; closing hundreds of unregistered mosques and prayer rooms; and demolishing three unregistered mosques in Dushanbe. The Tajik government pays imams’ salaries in the largest mosques and restricts the preaching of sermons to these mosques.  Muslim prayer officially is allowed only in mosques, cemeteries, homes, and shrines. As of October 2015, Tajik authorities reportedly are prohibiting government employees from attending Friday prayers.

The IRPT was the only legal Islamist political party in the former Soviet Union.  It was granted such status as part of the country’s post-civil war peace settlement, and for 15 years was represented in Tajikistan’s parliament. The IRPT called for respecting Tajikistan’s secular constitution and international religious freedom commitments.  It opposed the government’s decision in 2005 to close eight mosques near the Uzbek border and its destruction in 2007 of mosques in the capital, Dushanbe.  Last year, the IRPT backed a parliamentary initiative that would allow children to attend mosques, which Tajik law currently forbids, and in 2015 it criticized a government campaign against beards and headscarves. 

The 200 IRPT members imprisoned since September include former parliamentarian Saidumar Husaini, IRPT Deputy Chair Mahmadali Hait, journalist Hikmatulloh Saifullohzoda, Islamic scholar Zubaidullah Roziq, and many IRPT regional activists. They have been denied access to their families, doctors, and lawyers.  The day after jailed IRPT deputy chairman Saidumar Husain told Buzurgmehr Yorov, his defense attorney, that he had been tortured, Yorov was arrested as was another IRPT attorney.  Jailed IRPT lawyer Zarafo Rahmoni reportedly has been severely abused and had threatened to commit suicide unless she was released.  IPRT leader Muhiddin Kabiri, forced into foreign exile, asserted that official extremism charges against his party were false and politically motivated. Several days ago, many of Kabiri’s relatives and his driver were tortured into confessing involvement in a deputy Tajik defense minister’s violent attack on a police station.    

The U.S. delegation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, among others, also have expressed concern about the Tajik government’s actions against the IRPT.  USCIRF has recommended since 2012 that Tajikistan be named a “country of particular concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) because of its numerous harsh laws and policies that severely restrict freedom of religion or belief. 

To read USCIRF’s 2015 Annual Report chapter on Tajikistan, click here.