Tajikistan bans Jehovah's Witnesses

Dushanbe, Tajikistan - Ex-Soviet Tajikistan outlawed the Jehovah's Witnesses religious organisation on Monday, saying its missionary activities violated the laws of the predominantly Muslim Central Asian state.

"Door-to-door missionary activities, calls to refuse to serve in the armed forces and their intolerance of other religions contradict the law," Tajik Culture Minister Mirzoshohruh Asrorov told a news conference.

Jehovah's Witnesses in Tajikistan could not immediately be reached for comment.

Two other Christian organizations -- an evangelistic Baptist group called Hayat Faravan (Full Life) and the missionary group Ehya (Revival) -- were also ordered to suspend their activities for three months.

According to official figures, more than 95 percent of the Tajik population belong to the Sunni branch of Islam and another two percent are Shiites. The Tajik government though is strictly secular.

The Jehovah's Witnesses have around 5 million members worldwide but number only in the hundreds in Tajikistan, most of whom joined in the early 1990s.

Human rights activists say members of the group face persecution Central Asia.

In July, Amnesty International urged nearby Turkmenistan to revoke suspended sentences handed down to three Jehovah's Witnesses accused of refusing to serve in the army on religious grounds.