In Tajikistan, religious freedom is becoming a phenomenon of the past. Last month, the central Asian country's lower house in parliament almost unanimously passed a restrictive anti-faith bill. The proposal, which is likely to become law, will prevent parents from allowing their children and teens to attend church or participate in religious activities. The stated governmental goal? To protect the nation's children from becoming radicalized.
The most recent measure is the latest effort to prevent fundamentalism from spreading. The restrictive bill does make minor concessions for funeral processions and religious education, though it appears to be an overt attempt at removing God from the public square. The Guardian has more:
Tajikistan is the smallest, poorest country in central Asia. When the Soviet Union broke up it was engulfed in a vicious civil war for years; the economy now depends on a mixture of remittances and aluminium mining. But it is a world leader when it comes to ensuring that religion remains a purely private matter.
...the present law says... "parents are obliged … not to let children [or] teenagers participate in the activity of religious organisations, with the exception of those officially enrolled in religious education (excluding funerals and mourning events)". So Tajik children may now legally attend granny's funeral, despite the danger of catching religion there.
Parents will be held legally responsible if children are found violating these parameters. Reaction to the proposed bill has been strong. According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, prominent Tajik religious leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Hoji Akbar Turajonzoda is less than pleased with its provisions. He claims that the bill is "openly against the will of God."
Yesterday, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a press release, saying:
The Tajik president initiated the draft Parental Responsibility Law in April, now under consideration by parliament. Several provisions of the draft Parental Responsibility Law violate the Tajik Constitution and international human rights standards. Article 8 obliges parents not to allow their children to take part in any organized religious activities except funerals. The draft law...imposes new restrictions, including on religious education and dress...
The lower house of parliament also passed on June 15 new Criminal Code amendments that punish those who organize unapproved religious meetings of any religious denomination and impose harsh prison terms for undefined "religious extremist" teaching.
Below, watch a report that discusses a move made earlier this year by Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon. The president asked students studying in foreign nations abroad to return home, as he believed that they were at risk for radicalization (though some of them have publicly disagreed with his assessment):
It is understandable that the Tajik government would want to stop Islamic radicals from infiltrating its ranks, but legally preventing children from engaging in religious activities is a move that most view as morally and legislatively wrong-headed.
(h/t The Guardian)