Last Updated 15 October 2018

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Tajikistan plunged into civil war, which ended in 1997. In spite of some developments and laws passed on domestic violence and agreeing on an International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which eliminated the death penalty, the current government which, now in its fourth consecutive term, still enforces a repressive law on religion and restricts media freedom and civil society groups. Tajikistan is a member state of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

The secular constitution of Tajikistan theoretically protects freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as freedom of expression, assembly and association. However, the laws and policies restrict and violate these freedoms.

There is no official state religion. However, the government recognises the ‘special status’ of Islam. The law tightly regulates and restricts religious freedom and how religious organizations may operate.

Religious controls

The government is steadily tightening state controls on religion. For example, the Parental Responsibility law, which President Emomali Rahmon signed in August 2011, stipulates that parents must prevent their children from participating in religious activity, except for state-sanctioned religious education, until they are 18 years old. (See “Education and children’s rights, below.)

“Authorities added further punishments, through changes to the administrative code that were enacted in July, for violating Tajikistan’s restrictive religion law and increased the powers of the State Committee for Religious Affairs to administer punishments without investigation by police or prosecutors. The new provisions impose significant fines on those violating the religion law’s tight restrictions on sending citizens abroad for religious education, teaching religious doctrines, and establishing ties with religious groups overseas.”

The government also tightly controls the publication, importation, and distribution of religious literature. The law against “inciting national, racial, regional, and religious hatred” is used by the government to prosecute unauthorised speech. As a result, despite constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech, the press, civil society groups and independent journalists face harassment and intimidation. In 2012, Tajikistan witnessed further restrictions on media freedoms when authorities frequently blocked access to critical websites, and continued to intimidate journalists. While in July, decriminalization of libel was a step towards freedom of speech, the new legislation retained criminal sanctions for insulting the president.

The Government has also debated banning religiously themed names, particularly those of Arabic origin.

Education and children’s rights

In order, it says, to tackle religious “fundamentalism”, the government of Tajikistan extensively restricts religious education and controls all areas of religious activity related to children. While these restrictions cannot be said to suppress learning about non-religious worldviews or atheistic ideas, they are usually regarded as over-protecting children from exposure to religious beliefs and as suppressing the freedom of religion or belief of parents.

Religious instruction of children is tightly controlled. The 2009 Religion Law prohibits private religious education. State permission and registration is required for an institution or organization to provide religious instruction. Both parents must provide written permission for a child to receive such instruction.

The Parental Responsibility Law came into effect in August 2011. The law almost completely bans children’s participation in religious activities, including mosque attendance and participation in funerals, but permits participation in approved religious education. The law also restricts children’s religious dress and limits parents’ choice of their children’s names.

Family, Community and Society

Against “extremism”

The government is taking measures to prevent individuals from joining or participating in what it labeled as “extremist” organizations. The government has previously arrested or detained more than 220 people on extremism charges as “Salafis” or ISIS supporters.

In November 2017, Abdumalik Salomov, a prominent Tajik surgeon, was found guilty of “participation in the activities of extremist associations or other organizations banned by courts” and was sentenced to 5.5 years in prison.

Numonkhon Otaev, an imam-khatib, was detained for possessing unregistered religious books after security officers searched his home and confiscated 300 books. News outlets reported that Otaev was a well-known religious leader and scholar with no connections to extremist groups.

Furthermore, NGOs have refused to register religious groups on technical or administrative grounds. Without registration, groups risk criminal or civil penalties. Jehovah’s Witnesses are deemed as an extremist organization and therefore are banned. Generally, both registered and unregistered religious organizations are subject to police raids, surveillance, and forced closures.

There have been recurring episodes of harassment towards women wearing hijabs and men with beards. Authorities reported that since 2015, police officers and other authorities have been attempting to dissuade individuals from wearing “alien clothing”. In July 2017, the Committee on Women and Family launched a campaign against “indecent clothing alien to the national culture and religion”.

Backlash against a lone atheist voice

Despite state restrictions on specifically religious belief, overt irreligiosity is not common and may be socially maligned.

In September 2017, Farangis, a 21-year-old resident of Dushanbe who participated in an interview for a radio station, claimed that due to pressure from acquaintances and friends, her atheism made her life difficult. On social media, many accused her of trying to propagate atheism.

LGBTI+ discrimination

Although same-sex sexual activity was decriminalized in 1998, due to traditional beliefs and the strong influence of religion on society, homophobia is still widespread. Members of the LGBT community face physical and psychological abuse.

There is no law against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBT people are often victims of police harassment and face threats of public beatings by community members. Law enforcement officials have been accused of extorting money by threatening to tell their employers or families about their sexuality.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

The authorities significantly restrict freedom of assembly and association. Public meetings and demonstrations must receive prior approval from local authorities, and approval is routinely denied.

Beginning in March 2013, authorities ordered internet providers on several occasions to block access to independent local and international news and social networking sites. Following the publication of a critical article, the government blocked the Russian analysis site zvezda.ru. Three news sites that subsequently published the article were also blocked, as was Facebook, following user discussions deemed overly critical of the government.

The Government continues to hold over 150 journalists and lawyers in prison as part of a 2015 crackdown on freedom of expression and association. The relatives of dissidents abroad who criticise the Government are subject to violent retaliation by Tajik officials.

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