By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest
DUSHANBE/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– A major Christian rights group warned Tuesday, December 23, that many churches in the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan will face closure in 2009, if a new draft law requiring them to re-register under restrictive conditions is adopted by parliament.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) told BosNewsLife that the legislation will also impact the Muslim community in the country, as many mosques may be forced to close down.
Proposed legislation outlining the plans was reportedly send to parliamentarians for approval last month by autocratic President Emomali Rahmon, a former cotton farm boss, not known for tolerating dissent. His People’s Democratic Party holds virtually all seats in parliament.
The draft text reportedly enforces state controls over the activity of religious organisations, limits religious education and imposes government censorship over religious literature. “If passed, all of Tajikistan’s religious organisations will be obliged to re-register either as ‘religious organisations’ or as ‘religious communities’, the latter having no legal status,” CSW said. “Many may lose their legal status and some could face closure due to harsher criteria for registration,” the group added.
Tajik human rights have expressed concerns over President Emomali Rahmon’s unusual decision to send this draft religion law to parliament himself, CSW added. “Normally draft laws are sent to parliament by the government, and the previous draft religion law was sent only by the government’s Religious Affairs Committee.”
Forum 18, another rights group, said some analysts interpret this as an indication of the political importance of this new law. The Tajikistan Office of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has reportedly expressed concern at “the vagueness of many of the articles” and details in the draft law, pointing out that interpretation will therefore fall on local authorities.
It added that OSCE commitments “are quite clear” when it comes to the issue of religion and freedom of conscience. CSW Advocacy Director, Tina Lambert said she fears “this draft law falls short of internationally accepted standards regarding freedom of religion and belief.” She said that CSW has urged legislators to reconsider the text of “this restrictive draft law”. In addition, she said, the international community should “speak out against a trend in Tajikistan” and the region as there have been “many similar laws being proposed across Central Asia in recent months.”
Christianity and other religious groups have often been seen as a threat to the power base of autocratic leaders in Tajikistan and other areas, BosNewsLife monitored.
The current president has been was elected chairman of the Supreme Council of Tajikistan in 1992 after the country’s first post-Soviet leader, Rahmon Nabiyev, was forced to resign.
Emomali Rakhmon – now in third term as president – was elected president in 1994 and re-elected in 1999 when his term was extended to seven years.
In 2006 he won a third term in office in an election which international observers said was neither free nor fair. Opposition parties boycotted the vote, reportedly dismissing it as a “Soviet-style staged attempt at democracy.”