by Anneta Vyssotskaia
TAJIKISTAN: CHRISTIANS PERSECUTED SEVERELY
Tajikistan is a country in Central Asia bordering Afghanistan, Uzbekistan,
Kyrgyzstan and China. Tajikistan was part of the Soviet Union and became an
independent country after the dissolution of the USSR in 1992. Tajikistan
suffered a five-year civil war which resulted in many deaths and had a
devastating effect on the country's life and economy. It is officially the
poorest country in Central Asia and one of the most corrupt countries in the
world. Its population approaches nine million and is predominantly Muslim
The Christian churches are a tiny minority and face a lot of pressure from
the government and Muslim society. The law prohibits children and young
people under 18 participating in religious activities in both churches and
mosques. The greatest pressure is on the Christians with Muslim background
who experience persecution at all levels - from their family members, the
Muslim community and state officials. The pressure is especially strong in
rural areas. The persecution can take different forms, from verbal to
physical abuse, beatings, abduction, home detention, discrimination, losing
jobs and in other ways. The number of Christian churches remains small and
there are many secret believers. It is illegal to meet for worship without
state registration, but it is also extremely difficult and practically
impossible to get state registration. For that reason many Tajik Christians
meet secretly in house churches, facing the risk of police raids, detention,
interrogation and fines.
President Emomali Rahmon was bestowed the official title, 'The Founder of
Peace and National Unity, Leader of the Nation'. During his 25 years' rule,
the religious freedom situation in Tajikistan has worsened significantly.
Since 2016, human rights in general are also considerably worse, with many
arrests and imprisonment of members of the opposition parties, including top
Christian churches also have been experiencing increasing pressure in 2017.
In the capital city, Dushanbe, two kindergartens were closed because of the
Christians employed and a Christian book being found. In March, a registered
church in Konibodom was raided, believers interrogated, threatened and beaten
and the church was closed. In June, a non-registered Baptist church in
Dushanbe was raided, books confiscated, believers videotaped, interrogated
and their details taken. Demolition of the church building was threatened.
Other non-registered churches were raided, books confiscated, church leaders
threatened and fined.
In April, Bakhrom Kholmatov (42), the pastor of a registered Sunmin church in
Khudzhand, was arrested, accused of inciting religious hatred and sentenced
to three years' imprisonment. The accusations were based on Christian hymn
books found in the church with songs like 'God's army is marching' and 'Our
fight is not against flesh and blood', as well as the 'More Than a Carpenter'
book by Josh McDowell. The judges considered they were all 'extremist