TAJIKISTAN: Officials Deny Mosque Closures - Despite Evidence.

by Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 10 October 2002

Five of eight mosques closed down over the past month by the local authorities in the Jabarasul district of Tajikistan's northern Sogd region, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of the regional centre Khojand, remain closed, Keston News Service confirmed on a visit to the district. Speaking to Keston on 8 October in the village of Proletarsk, the administrative centre of Jabarasul district, the deputy district chairman, Marhabat Karimova, categorically denied that any mosques had been closed (even though Keston had verified this). The head of the religious affairs and inter-ethnic relations department at the district administration simply refused to speak to Keston, saying he had not received the appropriate instruction.

All eight mosques were small, with average congregations of between 10 and 20 generally elderly Muslims, who found it hard to reach larger mosques a long way from their homes. It is notable that the authorities did not even try to explain the reasons for their actions to local residents, simply ordering them to close the mosques. The congregations are now intent on reopening their closed mosques, calling them chaikhanas (tea houses) as a cover, in an echo of the widespread Soviet-era practice in Central Asia, when most mosques were officially listed as tea houses.

Journalists from the Varorud information and analysis centre (which publishes a newspaper of the same name and an information bulletin in the city of Khojand) told Keston on 8 October that it was only after their newspaper reported the mosque closures that three of the eight were reopened.

The chief editor of the Varorud information agency, Negmatullo Mirsandov, said he was not surprised that mosques have been closed in Jabarasul district. "When the President of Tajikistan reported about two months ago that three people from northern Tajikistan were among members of the Taliban being held at the American army base in Cuba, the authorities of Sogd region stepped up their control over believers' activities," he told Keston in Khojand on 8 October. "Although in Tajikistan religious organisations are separate from the state, the regional authorities have been carrying out assessments of the imams of the mosques. Many of them did not pass the assessment and therefore lost their jobs." Mirsandov reported that there have been attempts to close mosques in other towns and villages in northern Tajikistan. (END)