By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest
BUDAPEST/DUSHANBE (BosNewsLife) -- Authorities in the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan have begun destroying and banning Protestant churches, forcing an increasing number of Christians to meet and worship "underground" missionaries said Wednesday, October 15.
Christian Aid Mission (CAM), which supports native missionaries in the country, said it also learned that the country's High Economic Court has refused to openly announce whether one of the closed churches in the capital Dushanbe will be returned to Christians, following an August 29 hearing behind close doors.
"City officials wanted to seize the building even though it was bought legally ten years ago," CAM told BosNewsLife. "Church members have been working on it for the past nine years and renovations are still on-going. But the authorities wanted it back. The judge, barring international observers from the courtroom, refused to report on the outcome."
In addition, "a Protestant church was confiscated and completely demolished," last year, CAM explained. "To date, no compensation has been given to the church leaders. Two other Protestant churches have been banned." CAM said the latest developments are part of what officials reportedly have described as a "rebuilding program", which was launched in 2005.
The government has strongly denied it has banned churches. However CAM said that many communities have since been "bulldozed and hundreds of citizens were left homeless," CAM added. "Last year a Protestant church was confiscated and completely demolished. To date, no compensation has been given to the church leaders. Two other Protestant churches have been banned," CAM said.
The group told BosNewsLife that the government is making it especially "more difficult for certain religious organizations to exist." It said new meassures also include that only religious associations with at least 200 members can receive state recognition and officially operate.
"This is an obvious attempt to squelch the growth of religious minorities in a 97 percent Muslim population," CAM said. The group said it has launched starting a series of short-term Christian training programs held "underground", to avoid detection by police. "If there are no more churches available for these training sessions, they they will meet in the homes of believers," CAM stressed.
It comes at a time of international concern about Islamic extremism in Tajikistan. The Central Asian nation has been accused by its neighbors of tolerating the presence of training camps, for Islamist rebels on its territory, an accusation which the government has strongly denied.
The country has close ties with Russia. In October 2004 Russia formally opened a military base in Dushanbe where several thousand troops will be stationed. It also took back control over a former Soviet space monitoring center, developments seen by analysts as a sign of Moscow's attempts to counter perceived increased American influence in Central Asia.
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