The government continued to take measures to prevent individuals from joining or participating in what it considered to be “extremist” organizations. The government arrested or detained over 100 persons as “extremists,” primarily individuals it suspected of supporting Salafi ideas. NGOs stated authorities continued to refuse to register religious groups on technical or administrative grounds and without registration, groups risked criminal or civil penalties for operating. The Jehovah’s Witnesses and the country’s sole Jewish synagogue remained unregistered. Hanafi Sunni mosques continued to enforce the fatwa prohibiting women from praying at mosques. Human rights activists asserted that authorities sought to “establish total control of Muslim activity” in the country. The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) continued to conduct video surveillance of mosques in Dushanbe, stating its focus was on individuals who attended multiple mosques as most likely to spread “radical ideology.” Authorities continued to shut down “illegal” prayer rooms and mosques around the country. Officials stated 29 religious associations had voluntarily terminated their activities during the year after notification their mosques were surplus to the number officially allocated to their locations. During a meeting with local imam-khatibs, the chief of the Department of Internal Affairs in Sughd Region stated his department had warned 138 mullahs for providing “illegal” religious education to young people. The CRA told the media it planned to organize refresher courses for imam-khatibs to educate them on the “behavior of potential extremists.” NGOs reported the authorities continued to harass women wearing hijabs, as well as men with beards, and continued to conduct raids to shut down shops selling such “nontraditional” Tajik clothing. Government officials issued statements discouraging women from wearing nontraditional clothing. The Ministry of Education announced the introduction of a new course on the history of religion in public schools.
The government continued to arrest and detain individuals whom it suspected of membership in or support for any of the groups on its list of groups banned as extremist. Those groups included Hizb ut-Tahrir, al-Qaida, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Taliban, Jamaat Tabligh, Islamic Group (Islamic Community of Pakistan), Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkestan, Islamic Party of Turkestan (former Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan – IMU), Lashkar-e-Tayba, Tojikistoni Ozod, Sozmoni Tablighot, Salafiya, Jamaat Ansarullah, Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), and Group 24.
On July 20, the Acting Chief of the Sughd Regional Department of Religious Affairs, Suhrob Rustamzoda, told media the authorities in the first half of the year had detained nine imam-khatibs and sentenced them to various terms of imprisonment in Sughd Region for membership in the banned Salafi movement. As of the end of the year, no updated figures were available.
In two separate cases in February, the Khujand City Court sentenced 14 residents of Sughd Region to prison terms for disseminating Salafi ideas. In the first case, authorities charged the 11 defendants with organizing extremist activity and participating in a banned extremist movement, and the court handed down sentences ranging from three years and two months to five years and six months. In the second case, the three defendants pled guilty to spreading Salafi ideas after joining a Salafi group in 2004. The court sentenced each of them to three years in prison.
In March local authorities in the Jaloliddin Balkhi District told the media they had detained 25 alleged Salafists from different villages and settlements of the district. Some of the individuals were reportedly detained following complaints by imams from local mosques.
In April and again in July Dushanbe’s Ismoili Somoni District Court convicted four individuals for membership in the Salafi movement. According to the court’s website, in the first case the court sentenced Romish Boboev to 16 years imprisonment, Otabek Azimov to 14 years imprisonment, and Abdurahmon Ismoilov and Khurshed Suvanov to three years imprisonment each. In the second case, the court sentenced Muhammadi Rahmatulloh to eight years imprisonment for “organizing an extremist community.”
In August during a working meeting at the Khujand mayor’s office, the Chief of the Interior Ministry’s office in Khujand, Colonel Emin Jalilov, announced the authorities had detained 30 residents of Khujand over the first seven months of the year for membership in various extremist and terrorist parties and movements. According to Jalilov, the authorities had previously “registered” (placed on a list of alleged extremists maintained by the government) 245 members of the Hizb ut-Tahrir group and 226 members of the Salafi group in Khujand. He said the authorities had jailed the majority of them, although he did not specify when this had occurred. As of the end of the year, no updated figures were available.
In May the authorities arrested five imam-khatibs of mosques in the northern Konibodom District, all reputedly members of the Muslim Brotherhood, on suspicion of spreading extremist propaganda, and for allegedly calling upon young people to go fight in Syria.
On June 7, in a closed trial, the Bobojon Ghafurov District Court convicted seven mosque imams from the northern Sughd region on charges of extremism based on their membership in the Muslim Brotherhood and sentenced them to prison terms ranging from three years to three years and four months. All the imams reportedly were graduates of the Islamic University of Medina, Saudi Arabia, where, investigators said, the men were recruited into the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1990s.
In September the media reported police had arrested five imams from the Sughd region for promoting extremist ideas and recruiting young people to join Islamist militant groups abroad. On December 19, the media reported a total of approximately 20 imam-khatibs from the Sughd region had been given prison sentences of varying lengths for involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood in closed trials held during the year.
On July 4, the national TV channel Tojikiston broadcast a report sourced to the Ministry of Internal Affairs on Orifjon Ergashev, the former Imam-khatib of the Taqvo mosque in Khujand, who allegedly had voluntarily surrendered to police and confessed his membership in the Muslim Brotherhood. According to the report, Ergashev reportedly said he had joined the Muslim Brotherhood while studying abroad from 1993 to 2001 and regularly received payments from the group. During almost 15 years as a teacher at the Khujand madrassah, he had allegedly engaged in promoting Muslim Brotherhood ideas among parishioners.
On August 8, the Dushanbe Court convicted 18 residents of Roghun District on charges of religious extremism, without specifying the nature of the religious acts they had undertaken, but also for allegedly issuing public calls for the forcible overthrow of the country’s constitutional order. The 18 convicted included two local imams. The group was sentenced to prison terms ranging from three years and six months to 10 years.
On January 28, the Chief of the Department of Internal Affairs in Sughd Region, Sharif Nazarzoda, told the media police in 2015 had arrested approximately 110 members of different extremist and terrorist groups in the region, including 36 members of Salafi groups, 34 members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, 20 members of Ansarrullah, seven members of Jindullah, five members of the IRPT, four members of ISIS, and two of Hizb ut-Tahrir.
On February 22, media reported police had detained two merchants from Korvon Bazaar because they wore beards. In a February 23 statement, the Ministry of Internal Affairs denied the authorities had detained the two merchants because of their beards and stated the individuals had been detained on suspicion of involvement in terrorist and extremist movements intending to destabilize the political situation in the country.
On May 26, the Isfara City Court sentenced Oqil Sharifov to one year in prison after he filmed police in a local market detaining two women wearing hijabs. Sharifov was convicted on charges of inciting ethnic, racial, regional, or religious enmity.
Jehovah’s Witnesses reported a case in which police raided a peaceful gathering and temporarily detained all the participants, including women and children. Some of the detainees were beaten and one was reportedly tasered and knocked unconscious.
The CRA reportedly continued to send out guidance to imam-khatibs on the content of Friday sermons. In some cases, there were reports of the CRA sending out the text of sermons for imam-khatibs to deliver.
On several occasions, NGOs reported authorities refused to register religious groups on technical or administrative grounds. Without registration, the NGOs said, the groups continued to risk criminal or civil penalties for operating. Domestic and international NGOs stated both registered and unregistered religious organizations continued to be subject to police raids, surveillance, and forced closures.
Representatives of Jehovah’s Witnesses reported ongoing difficulties with the government and stated the government remained unwilling to register the group. The group said it continued to face harassment as a result of its lack of registration.
The country’s sole synagogue remained unregistered, reportedly because the emigration of many Jews from the country meant the Jewish community continued to have too few members to meet the registration requirements.
According to statements made to the press by the CRA’s top officials, there were 4,089 religious associations registered in the country, 72 of which were non-Muslim religious associations, and one of which was a non-Muslim religious community. The CRA did not report whether the number of registered associations included any newly approved during the year, nor did the CRA provide any information on whether there had been any applications for registration during the year. In terms of Muslim religious associations, the CRA stated there was one Islamic Center, 324 Friday mosques (where sermons were offered on Fridays), 47 central Friday mosques (which exercised jurisdiction over other Friday mosques), 3,558 five-time mosques (where sermons were offered during the day, but not on Fridays), and two Ismaili centers. At a January 12 press conference, CRA First Deputy Chairman Jumakhon Ghiyosov stated the CRA maintained “close cooperation” with all “legitimate” religious associations.
Hanafi Sunni mosques maintained enforcement of the 2004 fatwa issued by the Ulema Council prohibiting women from praying at mosques. Although the government had publicly stated the fatwa was a religious ruling rather than a law, a government official privately stated there was little evidence the public understood the distinction. NGOs stated the public perception was the Ulema Council operated under the control of the government. Women of other traditions, such as Ismaili Shia, were not subject to the Ulema Council’s prohibition.
Although neither the constitution nor the law made the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam the official religion of the country, observers said the government treated it as the “first among equals” because the majority of the population adhered to it. The CRA stated imam-khatibs should conduct preventative conversations with people who prayed “out of frames set by the Hanafi” Sunni school of thought.
The MIA continued to conduct video surveillance of mosques in Dushanbe, and said it hoped to expand the program to other cities.
On October 4, then-Mayor of Dushanbe Mahmadsaid Ubaydulloev ordered all official Friday and five-time mosques in the city to install surveillance cameras and metal detectors at their entrances. He said the camera feeds would be sent to the central mosque Hoji Yaqub, where the videos would be monitored. Ubaydulloev stated this step would make the city more secure. All costs of these security measures should be covered by the mosques themselves, according to Ubaydulloev. The mayor’s office stated cameras and metal detectors would also be installed in educational and medical facilities, restaurants, and public service and trading centers. The CRA, however, stated these measures would apply only to Dushanbe’s mosques and the mosques would be able to use donations to cover the costs of the cameras. The difference between the positions of the mayor and CRA remained unresolved as of year’s end.
On February 8, during a meeting with imam-khatibs and imams of local mosques in Khujand as well as representatives of law enforcement and other agencies, the Mayor of Khujand, Rajabboy Ahmadzoda, ordered the establishment of a working group to review the performance of all mosques in the city and to identify the exact number of mosques in Khujand. According to the mayor, if there were two or three mosques in one neighborhood and the distance between the mosques was negligible, this would be inconsistent with the law specifying the number and kinds of mosques allowed to exist in a given area based on its population, and at least one of the mosques ought to be converted into a public facility. “Excessive” mosques, he said, ought to be turned into sewing shops, teahouses, or kindergartens. The working group consisted of the Department of Religion and law enforcement employees.
According to the international NGO Forum 18, the Interior Minister stated in a January 25 press conference the authorities had closed 900 out of an estimated 1,500 prayer rooms and mosques in Dushanbe. At a July press conference, CRA Chairman Sulaymon Davlatzoda told the media the government had not stopped the activities of any “official mosque” for the last six years. He said those mosques whose activities were suspended were previously public facilities which later illegally had been turned into mosques. The mosques were shut, he said, because they lacked government approval for their activities. In the past two years, Davlatzoda said, the government had converted 1,032 mosques in different parts of the country into cultural and entertainment centers, or so-called “public places.” Davlatzoda further stated 29 “religious associations” (the classification officially applied to mosques) had “voluntarily” terminated their activities in the first six months of the year after receiving letters from city governments saying their mosques were surplus to the number of mosques officially allocated to their locations.
In March the media reported the CRA suspended the activities of 133 “illegal” mosques in Rudaki District. According to CRA statements, the mosques had been constructed without proper documentation. The chairman of the district issued a decree converting the mosques to schools, kindergartens, medical units, sport halls, cultural centers, and computer and sewing shops.
In April authorities of Kulob City told the media the local government had given seven buildings, which had been illegally used as mosques, to homeless families. The authorities also said they had determined 54 mosques in Kulob were operating illegally due to a lack of appropriate documentation. City authorities said some of the mosques had already been turned into recreation facilities.
On May 14, during a meeting with local imam-khatibs, Sharif Nazarzoda, Chief of the Department of Internal Affairs in the Sughd region, stated his department had warned 138 mullahs for providing illegal religious education to young people in the first four months of the year. The mullahs were fined a total of 28,000 somoni ($3,590). As of the end of the year, there was no information on whether the authorities in Sughd had warned or fined additional mullahs.
In January the CRA told the media it planned to organize refresher courses for imam-khatibs. Representatives of official religious organizations, the Islamic Center, and lawyers would conduct courses for imam-khatibs to educate them about the behavior of potential extremists and terrorists during prayers. CRA officials stated since 2013, 2,543 imam-khatibs from all parts of the country had taken refresher courses.
CRA First Deputy Chairman Ghiyosov told the media in January there were 1966 students studying to become clergy at the Imam Azam Islamic Institute in Dushanbe. He said there were another 89 students studying at the Islamic gymnasium/lyceum. He provided no indication whether these figures represented a change from prior years.
The government ban on financial donations by individuals to mosques remained in effect. Clergy continued to be salaried government employees. The CRA continued to pay Muslim clerics a monthly salary of 800-1,000 somoni ($103-$128), depending upon their position. The CRA also continued to require clerics to wear a specific robe while performing official duties and continued its 25 percent subsidy of the robe’s cost.
In Dushanbe Muslim clergy continued to use loudspeakers for the call to prayer, despite a public disturbance regulation prohibiting the use of external loudspeakers for azan (the Islamic call to prayer) in the city’s mosques if residents in the vicinity of a mosque complained to city authorities.
In January the government released a new order on performing the Hajj. According to the order, citizens who wanted to perform the Hajj had to be 40 years old. After returning from the Hajj, a pilgrim would have to wait five years before performing the Hajj again. According to the CRA, the regulation was intended to give older Tajiks the opportunity to make the Hajj. The government stated it had urged the government of Saudi Arabia to increase the number of Tajik pilgrims it allowed but thus far there had been no change.
The Ulema Council continued to interpret sharia as limiting beard lengths for men to the size of a fist and requiring women’s clothing to cover the entire body except for hands, face, and feet. Although a media report released in January stated the government had forcibly shaved the beards of an estimated 15,000 men in 2015, observers stated there were only a few reports of forced shavings during the year. One civil society representative reported he was told to cut his beard in order to obtain a driver’s license, but said he eventually was allowed to take his driver’s license picture without cutting his beard.
With so many men shaving to avoid government scrutiny, observers said, the government had shifted its focus away from beards toward hijabs. Women wearing hijabs stated they were often harassed by law enforcement, despite the absence of any law banning hijabs. On June 23, three women requested assistance from an international organization because of government harassment they said they had received for wearing hijabs. One woman reportedly was approached at home and at work by plainclothes police officers who told her she needed to remove her hijab if she wished to continue operating her stand at a local market in Sughd Region. Police told her daughter the same and reportedly said the daughter would face prosecution if she did not comply. A second woman said authorities had delivered the same threat to her at her place of work in a different bazaar. A third woman, a housewife, said she had faced harassment from local authorities for wearing the hijab as she went about her daily activities. Six police officers reportedly approached her in a market and questioned her about her hijab. She said the officers had threatened her with detention, although they took no action against her. One of the women filed an official complaint with the CRA and the MIA. According to the international organization, the three women stated the authorities had increased their harassment of women wearing hijabs since May. They said they knew of instances where police had raided homes and public spaces and ordered women to remove hijabs. They also reported instances of children being denied entry to kindergarten because their mothers wore hijabs.
On May 24, during a meeting with representatives of several government bodies including the Ministry of Education and Science, the Ministry of Health, the Interior Ministry, the State Committee for National Security (SCNS), as well as heads of Dushanbe’s bazaars and trade centers and deputy mayors of Tursunzoda and Rudaki District, the Head of the Committee for Women and Family Affairs, Idigul Qosimzoda, called on local women to wear Tajik national dress and to refrain from wearing clothing “alien” to Tajik culture. According to media reports, she urged the meeting’s participants to encourage their employees to wear national clothing, and to reject “alien” clothing.
During the course of a televised conference at the beginning of June, Sharif Nazarzoda, head of the Sughd Department of the MIA, stated “some women and girls” were associated with extremist/terrorist organizations and drew a link between these women and those who followed “alien culture and traditions.” According to human rights NGOs and international media, references to “alien culture and traditions” had become a government euphemism for the wearing of hijabs. Nazarzoda said the MIA would detain women in hijabs and would investigate whether their husbands were Salafists, because the Sughd MIA had determined all Salafist wives wore hijabs.
In August chief of the Interior Ministry’s Khujand office Jalilov stated police officers had conducted approximately 40 raids since the beginning of the year in bazaars and shopping points and had registered 643 women (i.e., put their names on a list maintained by the government) for wearing the hijab. No updated figures were available as of the end of the year.
On January 19, the Chief of the Department of Internal Affairs in Khatlon Region, Bahrom Sharifzoda, told reporters that in 2015 authorities had shut down 162 shops selling women’s religious clothing which did not meet national traditions. According to Sharifzoda, as a result of joint efforts undertaken with other local authorities, 6,873 local women had stopped wearing hijabs and clothing “alien to Tajik custom.” He said during 2015 the authorities had detained 89 women wearing hijabs who were involved in prostitution, which observers said was an attempt to lower the public status of women wearing hijabs. Sharifzoda reported authorities in Khatlon conducted various educational events aimed at encouraging women to wear traditional national clothing.
The Ulema Council in August published an article on its website recommending Tajik brides wear “traditional” dresses at their weddings. In response to a reader’s question, the council stated wearing a Western wedding dress was also permissible and would not affect the sanctity of an Islamic marriage ceremony.
Officials reportedly continued to inspect bookstores, newsstands, kiosks, markets, and mosques to confiscate illegal religious materials. The government continued to allow vendors to sell basic Islamic texts, including the Quran, the Hadith, the history of the Prophet, and prayer books, but did not permit vendors to sell Shia literature, Sunni texts considered non-Hanafi, or audio and video disks featuring unregistered imams. Leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, some Baptist congregations, and the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), stated they had difficulty bringing religious literature into the country. The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Baptists both said the authorities seized their literature, and the Baptists said they had to pay fines for “possession of unvetted religious material.” In the case of the ROC, local priests reported Russian Orthodox Bishop Pitirim had to appeal to President Emomali Rahmon to get a large shipment of books released. The Ismaili Shia community stated its organization had experienced no problems receiving prompt CRA clearance for its religious materials.
In May police seized Jehovah’s Witness literature and submitted it for review to three Muslim imam-khatibs who ruled the literature was an “incitement to religious strife” because it stated the Jehovah’s Witnesses practiced the “true” faith. As of the end of the year, the materials remained banned.
During his January 12 press conference, CRA First Deputy Chairman Ghiyosov stated the CRA had printed 14,000 brochures on the dangers of “extremist” movements and parties, and had disseminated the brochures at the major markets in Dushanbe and at central Friday mosques throughout the country. In response to 117 requests from religious groups, Ghiyosov said, the CRA had analyzed 399 items of literature, 36 notebooks, one religious calendar for 2015, and 1049 leaflets of religious content. He said the CRA had approved 312 of the items of literature, seven of the notebooks and 783 of the leaflets, while determining the remainder of the items contained illegal content.
At the beginning of the year, the Prosecutor General’s Office announced the construction of new mosques would be allowed only in those neighborhoods where there was no other mosque nearby.
At a July 20 press conference, the acting chief of the Sughd Regional Department of Religious Affairs, Suhrob Rustamzoda, announced the government closure of five madrassahs which had been in suspended status since June 2013. He said the madrassahs had not met requirements for providing religious education.
During the year, authorities strengthened efforts to address “illegal” religious studies by citizens at overseas institutions. During a January 12 press conference, CRA First Deputy Chairman Ghiyosov stated 3,006 students involved in “illegal” religious studies abroad had returned to the country as a result of measures taken by the government, in particular by the CRA. He expressed concern about 57 students whom he said had returned to schools abroad and were still studying illegally. From the total number of returned students, he said 66 were found guilty of crimes and were imprisoned. He said 25 of those were imprisoned for involvement in terrorist political parties and movements both inside and outside the country. He provided no details as to exactly what measures the government had taken to convince the students to return, the dates when the students returned, or when the 66 had been imprisoned. According to Ghiyosov, data gathered by the MFA and SCNS indicated 466 students were still studying abroad illegally, primarily in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait.
A Sughd Region official stated 649 Sughd residents had studied at religious institutions in Islamic countries abroad. He said 630 of them had returned to the country while 19 students had not done so and continued to study at foreign religious institutions. According to Rustamzoda, 39 of those who had returned had then gone back abroad to continue their studies. He provided no details as to exactly when the 649 had first gone abroad or how long the 630 had stayed abroad before returning home.
On February 29, the Tajik Islamic University warned its students against contact with “extremist” groups. A statement released by the university stated the university had information about some students using their mobile phones to watch videos released by such groups, including the IRPT. The university’s statement said this was a violation of law and students with ties to “extremists and terrorists” would be expelled from the university and criminal proceedings would be brought against them.
On January 11, Minister of Education and Science Nuriddin Said announced the ministry had introduced a new course entitled the “history of religion” for ninth grade students. The textbook for this course had already been printed in Tajik and the ministry intended to publish it in Russian and Uzbek. Komil Isoev, Director of the Center on Drafting, Printing, and Dissemination of School Textbooks for the Ministry of Education and Science, told the media the majority of young people were susceptible to radical messaging because they lacked knowledge of the content and concepts of religion. Isoev stated the government considered introduction of the course into school curriculum necessary so young people would become familiar with world religions.
In the context of discussing difficulties minority religious groups were having in trying to comply with the provisions of the law on the religious education of minors, leaders of the groups reported conversations with government officials in which the officials continued to state the provisions of the law were not meant to apply to their organizations, but to the Hanafi Sunni population instead.