By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
DUSHANBE/BUDAPEST (Worthy News) – Tajikistan’s autocratic Islamic government has told Protestant church leaders that it will not register new churches, effectively banning congregations, Christians familiar with the talks said Thursday.
Christians expressed concerns about the May meeting with Sulaymon Davlatzoda, the chair of the State Committee for Religious Affairs and Regulation of Traditions, Ceremonies, and Rituals.
“We will keep the figure of registered churches unchanged from now on,” Sulaymon reportedly told the church leaders.
He also reminded the church leaders that there are to be “no religious activities for those under 18 years of age, including their participation in any religious camps,” Christians said.
“Believers in Tajikistan recognize that bans such as these severely restrict the sharing of their faith,” noted advocacy group Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC).
“Outlawing new churches limits any potential increase in the country’s Christian population,” VOMC told Worthy News.
There was no immediate reaction from authorities, but rights groups have expressed concerns about their autocratic style.
Under the Religion Law, enacted in 2009, any religious activities conducted without state registration are illegal and punishable.
Numerous churches have faced fines and arrests for violating these laws, according to Christian rights investigators.
“Restrictions for children came into effect in 2011 when the “Parental Responsibility Law” banned all participation in religious events for minors, making an exception only for funerals,” VOMC recalled.
And as Tajikistan is predominantly Muslim, converts from Islam are reportedly at risk from their families and communities, in addition to the broader persecution from the one-party state.
“If a woman or girl’s conversion is discovered, she risks being locked up, beaten, rejected, harassed or forced to marry a Muslim,” said well-informed advocacy group Open Doors.
“If a female Christian convert was already married before becoming a Christian, she is likely to be repeatedly beaten by her husband, who will ultimately divorce her. At the hands of the local community, Christian men can lose their jobs and suffer beatings, threats, verbal and physical abuse, discrimination, and ostracism,” the group added.
The Russian Orthodox Church is registered and somewhat tolerated since they don’t usually evangelize to the Tajik population, Christians said.
But Protestants are viewed “with significant suspicion and are seen as extremists,” Open Doors explained.
Despite the reported crackdown under President Emomali Rahmon, Christians continue gathering in churches and groups.
There are at least 65,300 living among the nearly 10 million population, according to Christian estimates.
VOMC said it had urged Christians to pray for believers in the former Soviet Union nation.
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