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TAJIKISTAN: RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE NEEDS TO BE HALTED

September 13, 2006

TAJIKISTAN: RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE NEEDS TO BE HALTED

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin - No. 395

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(By Anneta Vyssotskaia)

Tajikistan is a beautiful mountainous country bordered by
Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China. Its population is
reaching seven million of whom 40 per cent are children under 16.
It has a rich cultural heritage but a very poor economic situation
due to the 1991-97 civil war followed by a few years of famine. Of
all the former Soviet republics it is the poorest with over 60 per
cent of its people living below the poverty line. Because of the
difficult economic situation many people work for their living in
Russia.

Some 97 per cent of the people are Sunni Muslims. The main
Christian churches are Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic, with
Protestant Christians about 0.02 per cent of the population. Most
of the country\'s Christians are not from the local Tajik population
but from ethnic minorities like Russians and Germans. Since 1991
the Church in Tajikistan has experienced considerable growth.

Though Tajikistan is officially a secular state the government
strongly supports Sunni Islam, while the religious minorities are
either persecuted or heavily restricted in their activities,
especially in their outreach to the ethnic Tajik population.
However a growing number of ethnic Tajiks are converting to
Christianity in both Tajikistan and Russia. Young Tajiks especially
are open to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as well as women in
difficult life situations who come to the churches seeking help and
compassion. Some churches have access to prison work where former
criminals have become committed Christians.

When ethnic Tajiks become Christians they are ostracised by their
families and community as \'traitors\' to the Islamic faith, even
though it is not prohibited by law. Local Muslims regard the
missionary activities of the churches negatively, resulting
sometimes in outbursts of violence against Christians. Despite all
this the number of ethnic Tajik believers continues to grow.

Since July 2005 the activities of non-Islamic religious bodies have
been increasingly restricted or banned. In March 2006 it emerged
that the parliament was due to consider a new tremendously
restrictive law on religion which also seriously violated freedom
of conscience. The churches\' appeals to the Tajikistan government
and various human rights groups helped to postpone its
consideration. (The president is just reported to have decided that
no changes will be made until the 6 November elections have been
held, which highlights their importance as a prayer point.)

A major concern is the draft law would prohibit any activities of
non-registered religious organisations. Those currently registered
would have to re-register in accordance with the new law,
resulting in the closure of the many unable to meet the changed
requirements. It has been very difficult for a church to get
registration in Tajikistan but under the proposed law it would be
almost impossible.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* the continuing growth of the Church in Tajikistan and the many
converts among ethnic Tajiks; for the eastern mountainous areas,
where the Islamic influence is very strong, to be reached by the
gospel.

* God\'s protection of and provision for all Christians, especially
church leaders, workers, and missionaries, as well as their
ministries particularly amongst young people and in prisons; also
for converts from Islam and wisdom for church leaders working in
hostile Islamic environments.

* the presidential elections on 6 November this year, that they
will help Tajikistan move towards greater democracy and freedom.

* the draft law on religion to be dropped, and for the existing
law to continue as it maintains the rights of religious
minorities and meets international standards.

\'I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that
no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have
kept my word and have not denied my name.\' (Revelation 3:8 NIV)

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SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE:
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RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE NEEDS TO BE HALTED IN TAJIKISTAN

Some 97 per cent of Tajikistan\'s seven million people are Sunni
Muslims. Christianity is amongst the religious minorities, and
Protestant Christians are about 0.02 per cent of the population.
Though Tajikistan is officially secular the government strongly
supports Sunni Islam. Religious minorities are persecuted or
heavily restricted, especially in their outreach to the ethnic
Tajik population. When ethnic Tajiks become Christians they are
ostracised by their Islamic families and community. Please pray for
them. Since July 2005 the activities of the churches have been
increasingly controlled. Earlier in 2006 a new law was proposed
that would severely restrict the churches and stop the activities
of non-registered religious bodies. Getting registration for a
church in Tajikistan is very difficult now but under the draft law
it would be almost impossible. Please pray that it will be dropped.

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RLP guest writer Anneta Vyssotskaia serves on the WEA Religious
Liberty Commission. Elizabeth Kendal, our regular researcher and
writer, is currently on other RLC assignments.

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The WEA Religious Liberty Commission sponsors this
RL Prayer List to help individuals and groups pray
specifically and regularly for religious liberty
issues, and in particular to uphold the Church
where it is suffering persecution.

RL Prayer is moderated by Ron Clough, a commissioner
of the WEA RLC and convenor of the Australian EA RLC.