In recent years, Tajikistan has seen an increasing crackdown on all religious activity that is independent of state control, in which minority religious believers and groups – both inside and outside the majority Islamic community – have been major targets. Starting in 2007, many mosques or Muslim prayer halls, the country's only synagogue in the capital Dushanbe and Protestant churches have been closed, bulldozed or threatened with confiscation. All Jehovah's Witness activity was permanently banned in 2007 and two small Protestant communities were 'temporarily' banned in that year. One of these was allowed to resume activities in late 2008. State officials publicly denied in 2008 that the bans were in operation, despite official statements to the contrary and the testimony of the minorities concerned.

The Tajik authorities continued to impose such bans in 2009. The activity of a Baptist congregation in Dushanbe was forbidden because they met for worship in a private home without state registration. Commencing in February 2009, the Supreme Court banned the Salafi school of Islamic thought. In September 2009, a religious affairs official defended criminal charges against up to 17 members of the banned Jehovah's Witnesses, for allegedly inciting inter-religious hatred. This carries a sentence of between five and nine years' imprisonment.

A harsh new law on religions was approved by the Tajik parliament in March 2009. It was signed by President Emomali Rahmon in the same month and came into force in April. The law was adopted despite protests by local human rights defenders and religious communities, as well as international bodies, including the OSCE and the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Asma Jahangir. She warned that enacting such a law 'could lead to undue limitations on the rights of religious communities and could impermissibly restrict religious activities of minority communities'.

Restrictions imposed by the law include provisions that: the founders of a religious organization seeking registration must show a document from their local executive body certifying that they have lived in their territory and adhered to the religion for at least five years; the government must now approve all published or imported religious literature, which can only be in an 'appropriate quantity'; the number of mosques is limited; state controls are imposed on the appointment of imams, although other faiths appear free to appoint their own leaders; Muslim prayers can only take place in mosques, homes and cemeteries, not at places of work or on the streets around mosques when mosques are full; all religious organizations must get the consent of the government to invite foreigners or attend religious conferences outside the country; and written permission from both parents is required before children can take part in religious education.

The new law also bans unregistered religious activity, in defiance of international human rights standards. Since 2006, almost no religious organizations have reportedly been given state registration. Shortly before the re-registration deadline of 1 January 2010 imposed by the new legislation, fewer than half the religious communities in the country had been re-registered. Some mosques had already been refused re-registration, and many were waiting for registration, along with the Baptist Union and the country's only synagogue. When re-registering some non-Muslim communities, the Religious Affairs Department imposed territorial restrictions on their activity. In December 2010, Deputy Culture Minister Mavlon Mukhtarov stated that if the number of mosques in a local area exceeds the new religion law's mosque quotas, 'we will close down mosques which exceed the quotas'.

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.