As the month of Ramadan begins, the Tajik government has banned youth in the Muslim-dominated country from worshipping in mosques and churches. They say this is an effort to curb religious fundamentalism.
98 percent of Tajikistan's population is Muslim
Tajikistan on Wednesday banned all children and teenagers from worshipping in mosques and churches as the volatile Central Asian republic pressed ahead with its battle against rising Islamic fundamentalism.
Tajik president Emomali Rakhmon, in power since 1992, signed the bill on "parental responsibility" on Wednesday into law after it was unanimously adopted by the upper house of parliament last month, local news reports said. Rakhmon has said tough measures are needed to stop the spread of religious fundamentalism in his country of 7.5 million people, 98 percent of whom are Muslim.
Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov has been in office since 1992
All people under the age of 18, except those studying at religious schools, are banned from praying in the Central Asian nation's mosques, churches or other religious sites, said the law which came into force on Thursday. It also requires them to study in secular schools. Those found guilty of providing "illegal religious education" to young people can now be put behind bars for up to 12 years.
It also bans girls from wearing jewelry except earrings and prohibits people under 20 from getting tattoos, going to night clubs and watching films or reading material which "disseminates pornography, violence, extremism and terrorism."
The bill's passage was strongly condemned by religious groups.
Prominent Muslim theologian and former Deputy Prime Minister Akbar Turajonzoda told Reuters: "During the month of Ramadan and just a month before the 20th anniversary of (Tajikistan's) independence, the authorities made a gruesome present to all believers."
"Prior to the adoption of this law, the authorities had already become too distant from their people and their needs, and now they turn this gap into an abyss of estrangement," Turajonzoda added.
Freedom of conscience and religion
Rakhmon, whose Moscow-backed secular government clashed with the Islamist opposition during a 1992-97 civil war, has ignored requests from the United States and European Union to respect the freedom of conscience and religion.
The new law requires young Tajiks to study at secular schools
Last year Rakhmon, who enjoys vast power in the poorest of the former Soviet states, recalled Tajik students studying abroad after accusing foreign institutions of taking steps to "prepare terrorists" and cracked down on a growing trend for Islamic dress.
The impoverished ex-Soviet state shares a 1,340-kilometer (840-mile) border with Afghanistan and has previously accused religious groups of stoking unrest in a bid to impose Islamic rule. In 2010, a total of 158 people were jailed for "religious extremism" in Tajikistan, which borders Afghanistan and China - five times more than in 2009.
"The president must have forgotten that the law of God is superior to the earthly law," said Turajonzoda, a former opposition leader. "This is why I doubt that under fear of fines young people will stop paying respect to Allah by praying."
Author: Shivani Mathur (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Sarah Berning