Tajikistan’s population is majority Sunni Muslim, with a small Shi’a Muslim community which primarily consists of ethnic Pamiris located in the mountainous eastern part of the country known as the Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO). The latest crackdown on civil society in the GBAO followed protests initially sparked in mid-May of this year. Since then, over 200 residents in the GBAO have been arrested and detained, including at least 90 activists. Journalists have been rounded up and Pamiris have been forcibly repatriated from Russia and given lengthy prison sentences.
Religious freedom has declined in Tajikistan since 2009 after the adoption of several highly restrictive laws. In 2011 and 2012, administrative and penal code amendments set new penalties, including large fines and prison terms, for religion-related charges such as organizing or participating in “unapproved” religious meetings. A 2011 law on parental responsibility banned minors from any organized religious activity except for funerals. Since 2012, USCIRF has recommended that the State Department designate Tajikistan as a “Country of Particular Concern,” or CPC, for engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, which the State Department has done every year since 2016.
Visiting Scholar at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University and retired Associate Professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, Suzanne Levi-Sanchez, joins us today to discuss the persecution of Muslims in Tajikistan and specifically highlights the increasing crackdown on Shi’a Muslims.