TAJIKISTAN: "No reason to fear" census religion question?

Source:             www.forum18.org

Date:                  September 18, 2020

 

TAJIKISTAN: "No reason to fear" census religion question?

Some fear the religion question in the October nationwide census will be
used to facilitate freedom of religion and belief violations. "It is
probable that Tajiks who have accepted the Christian faith, or are Ahmadis,
or are Salafi Muslims, will feel forced to lie and write that they are
Hanafi Muslims," one commentator noted. Some Protestants fear the
authorities "are trying to identify our members and where they are
located".

TAJIKISTAN: "No reason to fear" census religion question?
By Felix Corley, Forum 18

People have expressed concern about revealing their beliefs to the state in
a nationwide census to be held in the first half of October. This is the
first time a census has asked individuals to give their religious
affiliation since 1937, when Stalin ruled Tajikistan as part of the
then-Soviet Union.

Officials have given varying answers about why a religion question is
included. Some say it is needed to give Saudi Arabia data for it to
determine Tajikistan's haj pilgrimage quota, while others claim unnamed
international organisations want it.

Deputy Imomali Nasriddinzoda, head of the parliamentary Committee on
Legislation and Human Rights, refused to say why the religion question is
on the census. "We cannot talk to you," she claimed, telling Forum 18 that
"you need to write to the Foreign Ministry" before putting the phone down
(see below).

Some fear the regime, and individuals in small towns and villages, may use
the information to target people for freedom of religion and belief
violations. Various Protestants, who asked not to be named for fear of
state reprisals, told Forum 18 that "we are afraid that through this the
authorities are trying to identify our members and where they are located".
Other Protestants pointed out that officials and others "in small towns or
villages can use the information against us and violate the freedom of
religion and belief of our believers" (see below).

Independent blogger Rustam Gulov from the northern city of Khujand noted
that "it is probable that Tajiks who have accepted the Christian faith, or
are Ahmadis, or are Salafi Muslims, will feel forced to lie and write that
they are Hanafi Muslims. Their conscience will torment them about this. If
they write the truth, they may be persecuted not only by state agencies but
also by relatives or local people" (see below).

Gulov also commented that "on the whole the less the state knows about the
citizen, the better and more peaceful it is. This is because there are no
real mechanisms for the protection of personal data in our country." He
sees "no reason" for the regime to have precise numbers of the adherents of
various religions (see below).

International human rights law protects individuals from being forced to
reveal their beliefs (see below).

Voris Murodov of the regime's Statistical Agency claimed that that no one
will be punished for refusing to answer the religion question. When Forum
18 reminded Murodov that the regime systemically punishes people who
exercise their freedom of religion and belief, he claimed that "no
control or punishment will follow for indicating their religion or for
refusal to do so". He also denied that state agencies will violate the
freedom of religion and belief of anyone who reveals their views or
beliefs, claiming that "there is no reason for fear" (see below).

Religion question on 2020 census

The census is being conducted in accordance with the 2009 Census Law, which
requires a census once every 10 years. The Parliament (which has never
faced a free and fair election) approved an amendment
to the Census Law in 2019, adding a requirement that the census should also
collect information about individuals' religious affiliation. President
Emomali Rahmon signed the amendment into law on 19 July 2019.

Serious violations of the freedom of religion and belief and interlinked human
rights take place in Tajikistan.

Voris Murodov, Head of the Census Section of the regime's Statistical
Agency, said that the 2020 census will be conducted across Tajikistan
between 1 and 15 October. "It will be done by way of electronic
correspondence, and by recording information on tablet devices or on a
paper form during door-to-door meetings," he told Forum 18 from Dushanbe on
17 September.

The census will cover all residents, whether citizens or not, as well as
Tajik citizens who temporarily live abroad.

Murodov of the Statistical Agency said his Section was responsible for
drawing up the questions on the census form. Question 7 on Form No. 2 (for
individuals) is headed "Religion".

The question has five possible answers:

- Muslim

- Christian

- Non-believer

- Refused to answer

- Other (with a box to specify which belief).

Exactly the same question was included in an October 2018 trial census
taken in two parts of Tajikistan - the 64th and 91st microdistricts of the
capital Dushanbe, and the town of Norak in the south-western Khatlon
Region.

Individuals' right to privacy

Under international human rights law, the regime has no right to force
anyone to reveal what they think about beliefs. As the United Nations Human
Rights Committee's interpretative General Comment 22 on Article 18
("Freedom of thought, conscience and religion")of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states: "In
accordance with [ICCPR  "asked us to include
the question in order to identify exactly how many Muslims exist in the
country so that we can give the number to Saudi Arabia for allocating the
precise haj quota to Tajikistan".

Asked why this is so important, as Saudi Arabia already allocates the haj
quota based on the number of the population of a country, Murodov insisted
to Forum 18: "We need to know the real number of Muslims, since we also
have non-Muslims living in Tajikistan."

The regime imposes  severe restrictions on haj pilgrims as part of its
systemic violations of freedom of religion and belief.

Parliamentary deputy Abdukhalim Gafforov gave a different reason, claiming
to Radio Free Europe's (RFE) Tajik Service on 9 July 2019 that "state
agencies and international organisations which cooperate with Tajikistan
needed this information". He said that Tajik officials have repeatedly said
that more than 90 per cent of the population are Muslims "and our goal is
to establish during the census how many followers of Islam we have, how
many followers of Christianity, how many of other faiths, and how many
atheists".

Sumangul Tagoizoda, Head of the parliamentary Committee on Social Issues,
Family and Healthcare which was responsible for the Census Law, denied that
any international organisations asked for information. "I do not know any
such organisations," she told Forum 18 from Dushanbe on 18 September 2020.
She could not explain why Deputy Gafforov had made this claim. "It is
difficult for me to answer you," she said. Gafforov did not answer his
phones on 18 September.

Deputy Tagoizoda refused to say why the religion question was in the
census. "I am not prepared to answer you," she said, before refusing to
talk more.

Deputy Imomali Nasriddinzoda, head of the parliamentary Committee on
Legislation and Human Rights, refused to say why the religion question was
on the census. "We cannot talk to you," she claimed to Forum 18 on 18
September, adding that "you need to write to the Foreign Ministry" before
putting the phone down.

Independent blogger Rustam Gulov from Khujand told Forum 18 on 1 September
that he sees "no reason" for the regime to have precise numbers of the
adherents of various religions. "Nothing will change because the
authorities will find out that Muslims of the country are not 96 per cent
for instance but 98 per cent, or that Christians comprise 1.2 per cent and
not 1.3 per cent of the population."

Gulov pointed to Article 26 of the Constitution, which declares: "Everyone
has the right to independently determine his (her) relationship toward
religion, to profess any religion individually or together with others, or
to profess none, and to participate in the performance of religious cults,
rituals, and ceremonies." He also noted that Article 8 states that
"religious organisations are separate from the state and may not interfere
with state affairs". Gulov commented that "therefore, there is no reason
for the state to interfere in this."

A human rights defender, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of state
reprisals, told Forum 18: "I think one of the points of this question is
that the authorities would like to tell the public or international
organisations that Tajikistan allegedly has no Jehovah's Witnesses,
Baptists or Protestants according to the census. This will be used when the
authorities are criticised for violating the freedom of religion and belief
of non-Muslims." They commented that "probably many will not reveal their
beliefs".

Murodov of the Statistical Agency refused to answer, when Forum 18 asked if
the regime will use its claimed census results as an excuse to
international actors for freedom of religion and belief violations.

"No reason to fear"?

Murodov of the Statistical Agency claimed that if someone refuses to reveal
their views on religion "no punishments will follow". When Forum 18
reminded Murodov that the regime systemically punishes people who exercise
their freedom of religion and belief, he claimed that "no
control or punishment will follow for indicating their religion or for
refusal to do so".

Murodov also denied that state agencies will violate the freedom of
religion and belief of anyone who reveals their views or beliefs, claiming:
"How many times must I tell you that there is no reason for fear?"

The blogger Gulov noted that there can be many reasons for refusing to
answer the census question on beliefs. For example, "they may be afraid of
being accused of extremism, or worried about the confidentiality of their
personal data."

Gulov also noted that "it is probable that Tajiks who have accepted the
Christian faith, or are Ahmadis, or are Salafi Muslims, will feel forced to
lie and write that they are Hanafi Muslims. Their conscience will torment
them about this. If they write the truth, they may be persecuted not only
by state agencies but also by relatives or local people."

The state engages in serious violations of the freedom of religion and
belief of people of all beliefs.

The Salafi school of Islam is banned, Ahmadi Muslims are not
allowed to exist, and the only permitted form of Islam is state-controlled
Sunni Hanafi .

Various Protestants, who asked not to be named for fear of state reprisals,
told Forum 18 in August that "we are afraid that through this the
authorities are trying to identify our members and where they are located".
Other Protestants pointed out that officials and others "in small towns or
villages can use the information against us and violate the freedom of
religion and belief of our believers.

"No real mechanisms for protection of personal data"

Murodov of the Statistical Agency claimed that "there will be no question
to clarify people's Islamic denomination". He added that "non-Muslims also
need not be afraid, since all the information will be confidential. The
workers filling in the questionnaires with the population will sign
non-disclosure of data agreements."

However, independent blogger Gulov noted that "the forms will be filled out
by school children or teachers, apparently on ordinary paper forms. One
cannot talk about the secrecy of this information. If they tell one or two
people in small towns, the information will spread very quickly since all
in these towns know each other."

Gulov said that "on the whole the less the state knows about the citizen,
the better and more peaceful it is. This is because there are no real
mechanisms for the protection of personal data in our country." (END)

Full reports on freedom of thought, conscience and belief in Tajikistan

For more background, see Forum 18's Tajikistan religious freedom survey

Forum 18's compilation of Organisation for Security and Co-operation in
Europe (OSCE) freedom of religion or belief commitments

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if Forum 18 is credited as the source.

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