Tajikistan’s tiny Christian minority have been dealt a blow with the news that no new Protestant churches can be registered with the country’s totalitarian government. However, the church continues to grow, and Open Doors has been told that this latest setback will not deter Christians.
Tajikistan is number 45 on the Open Doors World Watch List
Leaders of Protestant churches in Tajikistan have been told by the government that they cannot register any new churches.
Sulaymon Davlatzoda, the Chair of the State Committee for Religious Affairs and Regulation of Traditions, Ceremonies and Rituals (SCRA), summoned the leaders to a meeting at its offices in Dushanbe in late May.
“We will no longer register any new churches,” Davlatzoda was quoted as saying. “We will keep the figure of registered churches unchanged from now on.” No reasons were given for the decision. Individual churches who have recently approached the SCRA for registration have been told the same, according to a Christian speaking to Forum 18.
During the meeting in May, Davlatzoda also ‘openly warned that children cannot participate in church activity, and no religious camps are allowed for them’. The 2011 Parental Responsibility Law bans the participation of anyone below aged 18 in religious events apart from funerals. Religious communities have been fined for violating this ban.
Without state registration, all exercise of freedom of religion or belief is illegal and punishable. The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee has repeatedly expressed concern over the regime’s restrictions on freedom of religion or belief and called for changes to laws and practice to end such controls.
"The church in Tajikistan is growing in numbers and, God willing, will continue to grow," Tajik Christian
Tajikistan is number 45 on the World Watch List, dropping 12 places from last year. However, this is largely because persecution has worsened elsewhere, rather than life getting any easier for our Tajik family – as demonstrated by this latest news. While the Russian Orthodox Church is registered and somewhat tolerated – since they don’t tend to share their faith with others – those associated with Protestant groups are viewed with suspicion and even deemed extremists.
“We meet for worship without registration but are afraid that the authorities can punish us at any time,” says one Tajik Christian, who said that they know of up to 15 such Protestant groups that do not have registration but would like it. Another put the figure at 20.
In January, a Protestant group was fined in the northern Sugd region for engaging in church activities without state approval.
But amid the restrictions and fear, there is reason for encouragement. “The good news is that, despite all the prohibitions, the church in Tajikistan is growing in numbers and, God willing, will continue to grow,” shares a church leader with Open Doors.
“Today there are many young people involved in evangelistic work and the Good News is spreading. Whether they will register churches or not, please pray for us so that we remain faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ and continue His work while we live. Thank God!”
Supporting information: Forum 18
That those feeling despondent by this latest news will be revitalised in their faith
That church leaders will be given wisdom, boldness and discernment as they navigate further restrictions
That the church will continue to grow in faith and number.
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