DUSHANBE (TCA) — A senior official in Tajikistan’s Customs Service has confirmed that the authorities have confiscated and burned 5,000 evangelical Christian calendars ordered by a Baptist church in the Central Asian country, RFE/RL’s Tajik Service reported.
Rahmonali Rahimzoda, who heads the enforcement branch of the Customs Service, told RFE/RL on February 14 that the calendars were confiscated at Dushanbe International Airport in December and later burned.
Rahimzoda said that the calendars contained “propaganda of an alien religion.”
“Following the conclusion of linguistic experts in the Culture Ministry that found elements of propaganda of an alien faith, the calendars were confiscated,” Rahimzoda told RFE/RL. “One can freely enter that religious group, but it is illegal to bring religious literature into this country without special approval from the Culture Ministry.”
Representatives of Tajikistan’s Church of Evangelic Christian Baptists said on February 13 that the calendars were “illegally” confiscated on the grounds that they quoted the New Testament of the Christian Bible.
They also said their church was ordered to pay a fine of 4,000 somonis, or about $420.
Church representatives said authorities told them the calendars were also confiscated because there were significantly more of them than the 200 registered Baptists in Tajikistan.
Tajikistan’s law on religions, adopted in 2009, gives priority to the Hanafi school of Islam, to which 90 percent of the countries’ population adheres.
The law bans the propagation of other religious faiths.
The Baptist church was established in Tajikistan in 1929 by believers who were exiled from Russia.
Before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, there were some 800 Baptists in the country.
Most of them left Tajikistan during the country’s devastating 1992-97 civil war.
In 2004, unknown assailants shot dead Baptist pastor Sergei Bessarab in Dushanbe.
Bessarab had been actively trying to convert Tajik Muslims to his faith.
Investigators blamed Islamic extremists at the time, but there has never been an arrest in the case.