TAJIKISTAN: All-Out Campaign Against Christian Activity in Southern Region.

Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 23 October 2001

A leaked letter from the head of the government's religious affairs agency in Tajikistan's southern Khatlon region, which borders Afghanistan, reveals official concern about 'increased activity' by Christian churches in the region which, he declares, should be placed under 'the most stringent control'. The 6 September letter, obtained by Keston News Service, was written by Kamolov (first name unknown) and addressed to the head of Khatlon region, N. Miraliev.

Local Protestants have told Keston that this letter, and an instruction issued eleven days later by the region's first deputy head calling for closer scrutiny of Christian groups, heralded what they term a 'real persecution' of Christians in the region. Law enforcement officials regularly visit Christian churches that have already been registered and are trying to find formal grounds to close them down.

In his letter, Kamolov complains that 'in recent years Christian teaching has taken root throughout the region, Christian activity has increased, which has complicated the work of local khukumats [administrations], law enforcement agencies and the committee for religious affairs... Christian leaders have sent several native people from the town of Kurgan-Tyube [the administrative centre of Khatlon region] on Baptist and Catholic courses in the city of Almaty [in Kazakhstan], in order that they should step up their activity on their return... Most heads of the town khukumats, because of their ignorance of the religious situation and the requirements of the law on religion and religious organisations of the republic of Tajikistan, are heaping their own blame and deficiencies on the head of the Committee for Religious Affairs and the regional khukumat. It would be better if the above issues could be resolved by mutual aid and consultation.'

 To counter such developments, Kamolov suggests a review of several articles in Tajikistan's religion law of 1 December 1999, in particular articles affecting Christian groups. 'We know that reciprocal visits by leaders of Christian organisations with foreign countries are permitted with the agreement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the foreign embassies in the city of Dushanbe, while the khukumats of the region, towns, districts and the representatives of the Committee for Religious Affairs remain on the sidelines,' he complains.

Kamolov also urges that 'the import of foreign literature should be placed under the control of the law enforcement agencies and customs committees'. He adds: 'We ask the Committee for Religious Affairs of the Republic of Tajikistan not to allow any resident of Khatlon region to leave for study, on an exchange visit or to visit holy places without the permission of the regional khukumat and the representative of the committee for religious affairs.' His final request is that 'the everyday activity of Christian organisations should be placed under the most stringent control of town and district khukumats and the law enforcement agencies, who should take the necessary measures against them in order to prevent infringements of the law.'

Speaking to Keston on 20 October in Dushanbe, Protestants from Khatlon region who preferred not to be named said that this letter had been prompted by the regional authorities themselves, in order to launch 'an all-out campaign to eradicate Christianity'. As confirmation of their view, the Protestants showed Keston an instruction to district authorities dated 17 September from the first deputy head of Khatlon region, Latofat Sharipova, ordering them 'to pay more concentrated attention to Christian organisations'.

Keston tried to reach Sharipova by telephone in Kurgan-Tyube on 20 October. A woman identifying herself to Keston as Latofat Sharipova answered the telephone, but when she realised Keston was making inquiries about Christianity, the woman suddenly declared: 'I'm just Sharipova's secretary. She won't be here today.' Keston's other calls to the Khatlon regional khukumat the same day were equally fruitless. When the receptionist realised that Keston wanted to talk about the situation of Christians in the region with the relevant officials, she said she would go to 'find out which of them was in the office'. However, on her return she told Keston: 'It appears that none of the management team is here and they will not be here today.' (END)