There were reports of abuses of religious freedom, including reports of brief detention. The police detained a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses in April for holding religious services in a mini-bus, and later released them. The government generally enforced legal restrictions on religious freedom, interpreting its right to restrict religious activity very broadly and essentially asserting its right to approve any religious activity.
The government levied heavy fines on the “production, export, import, sale, and distribution of religious literature” without permission from the CRA. The government charged a fee per page to “review” religious literature before granting this permission. Government- owned media outlets did not regularly publish religious literature, but on occasion published copies of the Quran in the Tajik language.
On March 2, a court fined two residents of the southern Khatlon region 8,000 TJS (approximately $1,700) each for “inciting national, racial, regional, and religious hatred.” The court convicted the two of leading prayers that violated Sunni prayer rules (which may include the location of one’s hand, the position in which one sits, and other strictures). The prosecutor alleged their actions created “public misunderstanding and religious conflict” by “fomenting aggressive debate” at the mosque.
On October 3, Adashkhon Inoyatzoda, muezzin (caller to Islamic prayer) of Dushanbe’s central Khoja Yaqub mosque, became the first person to face charges under the Parental Responsibility Law for allowing underage people to attend prayers. A court fined Inoyatzoda 280 TJS ($60).
There were numerous reports of authorities banning religious expression or practice. In February, the Customs Service seized a shipment of 20 different religious books imported from Iran, and a court in the southern city of Kulob subsequently determined that five of the books are on the Ministry of Culture’s roster of banned literature.
In May the Vahdat district court permanently banned Friday prayers at the Muhammadiya mosque. The Muhammadiya mosque was the center of a controversy beginning in December 2011, when officials accused the leaders of the mosque of conducting Shia rituals. At year’s end, the authorities continued to permit only five-times-a-day worship at the mosque, and not Friday prayers.
On July 2, the Dushanbe Mayor’s Office banned the use of loudspeakers for azan (Islamic call to prayer) in Dushanbe mosques. The new regulation prohibited the sound of the azan beyond the mosque to avoid disturbing city residents, particularly people of other faiths. The mayor ordered city police to implement this decree immediately. He also instructed police to set up video cameras at each mosque, to prevent underage people from attending mosques.
On August 8, the local government in Sarband, Khatlon region, set up video cameras in all mosques. A government official told the media this was to monitor prayer in mosques, follow sermon topics, and discourage underage people from entering the mosques. Sarband was the first district outside of Dushanbe to install video cameras inside mosques.
Many observers noted that the government heavily influenced the work of the Council of Ulema and tasked it to promote official state policies regarding Islam. In November the Council of Ulema, at the CRA’s request, established new rules on wearing a beard for men and clothing for women according to interpretations under the Hanafi Islamic school of thought. The new rules, which did not carry the force of law, limited a man to a beard no longer than the size of his fist, and decreed that a woman’s clothing should cover her body except for her face, hands and feet. The Council of Ulema supported the MOE dress code banning the hijab in schools, ruling that the national head covering may substitute for the hijab. Women who studied at the Islamic Institute and madrassahs were able to wear the hijab. The government did not permit government officials, teachers, and students in government schools to wear beards, but police reportedly did not harass bearded men who worked in local bazaars.
Mosques generally enforced the 2004 Council of Ulema fatwa prohibiting women from praying in mosques. Many imams believed they would face problems with the government if they allowed women to attend their mosques.
Some minority religious groups continued to report that local officials obstructed their efforts to register new churches, refused to provide necessary documentation for registration, and intimidated group members.
Government authorities intervened in the affairs of Muslim communities. In February the government dismissed two prominent Dushanbe imams, for refusing to read a Council of Ulema statement against the members of the Turajonzoda family, a prominent family with which the government has been embroiled in a long-running dispute.
In July the Khatlon regional government closed more than 100 mosques due to lack of proper documentation. The head of the Land Reclamation Department in Khatlon told the media that the main reason for closing the mosques was a lack of construction permits. He said the closed mosques would be used for schools, medical centers, and other public facilities.
The government placed numerous restrictions on religious activities and materials.
In October the supreme court rejected the appeal by a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses of the government’s denial of its registration.
In March the Ministry of Justice accused the international organization Millennium, operating in the southern Khatlon region, of spreading Christian religious propaganda. Authorities asked a local court to shut down the organization and confiscate its property on the basis of a law against holding religious services or activities in a member’s house.
The MOE oversaw implementation of legal provisions related to religious instruction in schools. Islamic education could be provided only at Islamic institutions. The MOE approved the rector, faculty, and all programs of study at the Islamic Institute of Tajikistan, the only Muslim higher education institution in the country. The government inspected the curricula at madrassahs and periodically monitored classes.
During the year, the government closed private religious schools not registered with the CRA. Some citizens complained that because of transportation difficulties, it was difficult for children to attend registered religious schools.
Officials inspected bookstores, newsstands, kiosks, markets, and mosques and confiscated unregistered religious materials. Vendors were allowed to sell basic Islamic texts including the Quran, the Hadith, the history of the Prophet, and prayer books. However, the government did not permit vendors to sell Shia literature, texts considered “non-Hanafi,” and audio and video disks featuring prominent Tajik imams. The government restricted the sale of previously permitted foreign religious movies, in particular Iranian and Turkish movies.
The only synagogue, in a building the government provided in 2010, was not officially registered because the community was not large enough to meet the Jewish and Tajik requirements for formal registration. Nevertheless, the government permitted Jews to worship there.