Tajikistan has taken the first step toward banning children and adolescents from worshipping in mosques and churches, drawing criticism from Muslim leaders who oppose the Central Asian state’s crackdown on religious freedom. The lower house of parliament in the impoverished ex-Soviet republic this week passed a “parental responsibility” bill that would make it illegal to allow children to be part of a religious institution not officially sanctioned by the state.
Authorities say the measures are necessary to prevent the spread of religious fundamentalism in the volatile republic, the poorest of the 15 former Soviet republics, where government troops have been fighting insurgents in the mountainous east. Muslim leaders said the law, the brainchild of long-serving President Imomali Rakhmon, would only increase discontent among the majority Muslim population of a nation that fought a civil war in the 1990s in which tens of thousands were killed.
“It’s a black day for Muslims. Even in Soviet times, such punitive measures and religious persecution did not exist,” said prominent Muslim theologist Akbar Turadzhonzoda. “If the state doesn’t want to, the people will defend their faith themselves.”
Tajikistan, which shares a 1,340 km (840 mile) border with Afghanistan, has accused religious groups of stoking unrest. Rakhmon last year called home students from religious schools abroad and criticised a growing trend for Islamic dress.