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Tajikistan's New Law On Religion

Tajikistan's new law on religion will make life tougher on all of the country's believers, not least of all those professing the country's predominant religion, Islam.

In passing the new law, which entered into force on April 1st, the government of Tajikistan reserves for itself the right to dictate to the people how many places of worship will be allowed to operate and where they may be located, and how often prayers may be observed. The law allows for censorship of religious literature, and outlaws several minority faiths.

According to the independent United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, which monitors the status of freedom of religion, the new law "will legalize harsh policies already adopted by the Tajik government against its majority Muslim population, including the closure of hundreds of mosques and limiting religious education of children."

In passing this highly restrictive law, Tajikistan is reneging on its international obligations. The new law contravenes Article 18 of the United Nations International Covenant for Civil and Political rights, which provides for religious freedom, which had been signed by Tajikistan. Moreover, as a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Tajikistan is obliged to conform to that organization's tenets defining freedom of religion.

Article 26 of the Constitution of Tajikistan states that "Every person has the right freely to determine their position toward religion, to profess any religion individually or together with others or not to profess any, and to take part in religious customs and ceremonies. By defining which religious organizations may or may not operate within Tajikistan, and by dictating how, when, where and how often citizens may practice or teach their religion, the new law directly contradicts the country's own Constitution.

In a recent speech, U.S. President Barack Obama said: "Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant civil society that only strengthens the state."

The government of Tajikistan should re-think its newly legislated restrictions on the freedom of religion. They benefit neither the people, nor the state of Tajikistan.