Christians are a minority in Tajikistan, and the practice of Christianity is severely restricted by the Religion Law, which gives the state enormous power to limit religious expression. And so we see in Tajikistan what we see in so many other nations: the persecution of Christians is conducted by state authorities, and so Christians have no recourse. 

CABAR, the Central Asian Bureau for Analytical Reporting, states that the Orthodox Christian community in Tajikistan is the smallest in Central Asia. CABAR states: “According to the report of the international organization ‘Open Doors’, there are 61.7 thousand Christians in Tajikistan, who account to 0.7% of the total population of the country. Most of them, 72.1%, are Orthodox. While this number includes all of those who consider themselves to belong to this confession, there are only about 500 permanent church parishioners.”

For previous ChristianPersecution.com coverage of the persecution of Christians in Tajikistan, see here.

“TAJIKISTAN: ‘We will no longer register any new churches,'” by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18, July 1, 2022:

Senior state religious affairs official Sulaymon Davlatzoda told Protestant leaders in late May: “We will no longer register any new churches. We will keep the figure of registered churches unchanged from now on.” He did not explain why. Davlatzoda also “openly warned us that under-18-year-olds cannot have freedom of religion or belief and participate in church activity, and no religious camps are allowed for them”. Without state registration, all exercise of freedom of religion or belief is illegal and punishable. The regime punishes Muslims, Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses for exercising freedom of religion without state permission.

Sulaymon Davlatzoda, the Chair of the State Committee for Religious Affairs and Regulation of Traditions, Ceremonies and Rituals (SCRA), summoned leaders of Protestant churches to a meeting at its offices in Dushanbe in late May. “We will no longer register any new churches. We will keep the figure of registered churches unchanged from now on,” members of various Protestant churches quoted Davlatzoda as telling them. “But he did not give any reasons,” they added.

Several churches which asked the SCRA for registration were also told the same individually, one Protestant told Forum 18 (see below).

During the meeting with Protestant leaders, Davlatzoda also “openly warned us that under-18-year-olds cannot have freedom of religion or belief and participate in church activity, and no religious camps are allowed for them”. The 2011 Parental Responsibility Law bans the participation of anyone below the age of 18 in religious events apart from funerals. Religious communities have been fined for violating this ban (see below).

The official who answered the phone of SCRA Chair Davlatzoda refused to answer Forum 18’s questions and claimed that Davlatzoda was busy. The telephones of his three deputies went unanswered (see below).

Without state registration, all exercise of freedom of religion or belief is illegal and punishable. The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee has repeatedly expressed concern over the regime’s restrictions on freedom of religion or belief and called for changes to laws and practice to end such restrictions (see below).

One Protestant told Forum 18 that “We meet for worship without registration, but are afraid that the authorities can punish us at anytime.” They said that they know of up to 15 such Protestant groups which do not have registration but would like it. Another Protestant put the figure at 20 (see below).

A group of Protestants were fined in the northern Sugd Region in January for exercising freedom of religion or belief without state approval (see below)….

The Religion Law, which came into force in April 2009, makes all exercise of freedom of religion or belief with others without state permission illegal. Such exercise of freedom of religion or belief without state permission is punishable under the Administrative Code. Fines were increased in January 2020 and December 2021 Administrative Code amendments.

Administrative Code fines are levied in Financial Units. The 2022 state budget set the Financial Unit from 1 January 2022 at 64 Somonis. This means a fine of 100 Financial Units is 6,400 Somonis, equivalent to about four months’ average wage for those in formal work, but a far higher burden for those without work or on pension.

Administrative Code Article 474 punishes “Violation of the Religion Law” (the Article was most recently amended on 23 December 2021, with fines generally doubling). Among other activities, “carrying out religious activity without an organisation’s state registration or re-registration” is punishable – for a first “offence” – with a fine of between 15 and 20 Financial Units for individuals; between 40 and 60 Financial Units for religious leaders; and between 200 and 400 Financial Units for legal entities.

Administrative Code Article 477, Part 1 punishes “Leadership of the activity of social or religious associations and organisations not registered in accordance with the established procedure of the law” with a fine of between 100 and 200 Financial Units.

Administrative Code Article 477, Part 2 punishes “Participation in the activity of social or religious associations and organisations not registered in accordance with the established procedure of the law” with a fine of between 70 and 100 Financial Units.

Administrative Code Article 477, Part 3 punishes “Financing the activity of social or religious associations and organisations not registered in accordance with the established procedure of the law” with a fine of between 40 and 50 Financial Units for individuals; between 100 and 200 Financial Units for officials; and between 800 and 1,000 Financial Units for legal entities.

UN concern over restrictions on freedom of religion or belief

The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee has repeatedly expressed concern over the regime’s restrictions on freedom of religion or belief. In its Concluding Observations (CCPR/C/TJK/CO/3), made public in August 2019, it expressed concern over “interference by the State in religious affairs, worship and freedom of religion and the ensuing restrictions”, which it said were incompatible with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)….

The Human Rights Committee said that the regime “should guarantee the effective exercise of freedom of religion and belief and freedom to manifest a religion or belief in law and in practice. It should revise all relevant laws and practices with a view to removing all restrictions that go beyond the narrowly construed restrictions permitted under article 18 of the Covenant.”…

Article 18 of the ICCPR (“Freedom of thought, conscience and religion”) includes the provision: “Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.”

State Committee for Religious Affairs (SCRA) “will no longer register any new churches”

Sulaymon Davlatzoda, the Chair of the State Committee for Religious Affairs and Regulation of Traditions, Ceremonies and Rituals (SCRA), summoned leaders of Protestant churches to a meeting in its offices in Dushanbe in late May.

“We will no longer register any new churches. We will keep the figure of registered churches unchanged from now on,” members of various Protestant churches quoted Davlatzoda as telling them. “But he did not give any reasons,” the Protestants told Forum 18 in June. They asked not to reveal their identity for fear of state reprisals. Several churches which asked the SCRA for registration were also individually told that they will not be registered, one Protestant told Forum 18.

The regime also imposes severe limitations on the numbers of mosques permitted, and activities allowed inside those mosques. It also forcibly closes mosques.

Fr Pedro Lopez, the Superior of Tajikistan’s Catholic Church, said that the SCRA had “not informed” it of such a decision. “We have no problems with the authorities. We continue our masses and charity activities without any problems,” he told Forum 18 from Dushanbe on 29 June.

Fr Lopez said that there are Catholic parishes in the cities of Dushanbe and Bokhtar (formerly Qurghonteppa). Masses in the two parishes are open to those who would like to participate from outside these two places, he added.

SCRA officials would not explain why they have refused to register any new churches and why those who exercise freedom of religion or belief without state permission face punishment. The official (who did not give his name), who answered the phone of Chair Davlatzoda on 30 June, refused to answer Forum 18’s questions and claimed that Davlatzoda was busy. The official also refused to put Forum 18 through to other responsible officials. Davlatzoda’s deputies – Amirbeg Begnazarov, Azizullo Mirzozoda and Farrukhullo Olimzoda – did not answer their phones on the same day….