Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Religious Freedom in Tajikistan

Erica Marat reports for the Jamestown Foundation on new curbs on religious freedom in Tajikistan:
"Tajikistan’s new bill on religious freedoms threatens to become the most rigid and illiberal regulation of its type in Central Asia. Developed in January 2006, “On Freedoms of Confessions and Religious Organizations” restricts religious education for children, curbs women’s rights to practice religious traditions, and increases the required number of congregants for registration of mosques. The bill also hints at an increasingly authoritarian style of politics practiced by Tajik President Imomali Rahmonov, who, for all practical purposes, has already secured his victory in the presidential elections scheduled for November 6. Finally, the bill would allow the Rahmonov government to rely more on local law-enforcement agencies in controlling religious leaders...

"One possible reason for Rahmonov’s wish to limit religious practices among the population is his fear of a new generation of religiously extremist youth who have little memory of the civil war between the secular government and the Islamic opposition in 1992-97. According to Tajik Minister of Education Abdujabbor Rahmonov, today Tajikistan faces a shortage of approximately 700 schools and 9,000 teachers (Asia-Plus, October 4). Lacking education and employment prospects, the younger generations represent a potential breeding ground for aggressive popular demands and could one day lead to a revolt against Rahmonov’s regime."

As Marat suggests later in the article, a key target of this legislation may be the Islamic Renaissance Party, Tajikistan's Islamist party which the government accuses of being influence by Hizb ut-Tahrir. The IRP is currently Central Asia'a only legal Islamist party, a legacy of the 1990's civil war between rival clan and ethnic networks which often deployed religious ideologies in ways a specialist would have to explain. However, Rahmonov is clearly an autocrat would would like to curtail all the opposition he can, and this move can easily be justified within the region as an attempt to prevent the kinds of instability which have occurred elsewhere in the Ferghana Valley and been blamed on Islamist militants.


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