Copenhagen (26/10 – 76.9)
UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Nazila Ghanea called on Tajikistan to adapt and review its laws, policies, and practices regarding religion or belief following her 10-day visit. She stated that the implementation of religious freedom and belief in the country is a cause for concern.
During a press conference at the UN office in Tajikistan, she also urged Tajikistan’s authorities to “leave the past behind and protect freedom of religion and belief.” Ghanea stated, “This will contribute to development, peace, and understanding in the country. The shadow of civil war looms over laws and customs related to religious freedom, which greatly affects them.”
She noted that the boundaries of implementing freedom of religion or belief are far from international human rights standards.
“Respect for freedom of religion and belief should be reflected in public activities and should apply to all, including women, religious minorities, children, and youth. They should be allowed to exercise this freedom,” added Nazila Ghanea.
During the press conference, it was mentioned that freedom of religion or belief is closely related to the need to preserve traditions and customs, religious practices, and education.
“It is inseparable from freedom of expression and allows independent associations and other members of civil society to contribute to the development of an open civil society,” she added.
As part of her visit to Tajikistan, Nazila Ghanea held meetings with officials from the Dushanbe mayor’s office and visited the city of Khorog in the GBAO region.
In her capacity as an ombudsman, she also met with parliament members, prosecutors, Supreme Court officials, representatives of civil society, religious organizations, and international organizations.
She also visited a prison where political and religious prisoners are held. She emphasized that Tajikistan’s authorities do not acknowledge the presence of political or religious prisoners in the country.
“We visited a prison in Vahdat. We examined the conditions of the prisoners. There are 13 mosques where up to 1,500 inmates can pray. Apart from these mosques, they are not allowed to pray in other places,” said Nazila Ghanea.
The UN rapporteur noted that during meetings, Tajik officials cited some reasons for introducing restrictions.
“For example, the ban on young people under the age of 18 visiting mosques was explained by Tajik authorities on the grounds that young people would miss classes due to mosque attendance. They also explained that the law on regulating traditions and customs was introduced to save money. Regarding the ban on women visiting mosques, it was explained as being against the Hanafi school,” Ghanea noted.
According to her, there were also officials who expressed readiness and efforts to address and resolve the issues.
“I call on the authorities to go beyond their concerns about extremism, terrorism, and incitement of hatred and to reconsider the positive contribution of religion and faith to harmonious and prosperous social life. Religion or belief is not a serious risk factor for public life; they can actively contribute to development, peace, and understanding,” she concluded.
UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Nazila Ghanea, began her visit to Tajikistan on April 11. She conducted an assessment of religious freedom and its interaction with the rights to freedom of expression, discussed issues related to gender equality, women’s rights, and children’s rights.
A preliminary assessment of the visit will be presented at the UN Human Rights Council in March 2024.
In July 2022, the Human Rights Council appointed Dr. Nazila Ghanea (Iran) as the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. She began her duties on August 1, 2022.
Ghanea is a professor of international law and has conducted research in the field of human rights, working as a consultant for various agencies in this area.
Special Rapporteurs are part of the so-called special procedures of the Human Rights Council. They examine situations in specific countries or thematic issues around the world. These experts work on an unpaid, pro bono basis and are not UN staff members. They are independent from any government or organization.