Tajik authorities restrict unauthorized contacts with foreign religious organizations

Dushanbe, Tajikistan - On Wednesday, the lower house of the Tajik parliament approved amendments to the Code of Administrative Offenses, banning proselytism and any unauthorized ties with foreign religious organizations.

Tajiks who want to get a religious education abroad will now be required to notify the authorities. Such a notice will also be required if a Tajik religious organization maintains links with a foreign organization.

"Propagandist and educational events conducted by religious organizations and persons on the grounds of the national general-education institutions or at houses can entail a fine of up to 2,000 somonis," First Deputy Chairman of the Governmental Committee for Religions Dzhumakhon Giyesov told parliament before the voting.

The exchange rate on June 6 is 4.7673 Tajik somonis per $1.

"Tajik religious societies and organizations will be fined between 1,200 and 1,600 somonis for establishing international ties with foreign religious organizations without duly notifying the authorities," Giyesov said.

Students who travelled abroad to study at foreign religious schools without getting permission from the Committee for Religions could be fined between 2,000 and 4,000 somonis, he said.

All deputies, except for members of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, voted for the amendments. The amendments will now be considered by the senate and become effective once signed by President Emomali Rahmon, who leads the People's Democratic Party which has an absolute majority in both houses of the country's parliament.

The past few years saw Tajikistan trying to keep secularism in the country, in particular, by banning schoolgirls from wearing Muslim headscarves. Also, the law introduced in August 2011 banned minors from going to mosques and churches unless it is related to mourning rituals. In reality, this legal clause has not been enforced yet.

In late August 2010, Rahmon expressed his fears over Tajiks studying at foreign religious schools, who come back home as "terrorists and extremists." He urged the parents of such students to immediately get their children back home. The repatriation campaign saw 1,950 religious students going back to Tajikistan, which is around 80% of their total number, according to the authorities.

About 99% of the Tajik population are Muslims, mainly Sunni. Around 150,000 Pamir residents in east Tajikistan are Shia Muslims.