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Tajik Officials Ban Jehovah's Witnesses, Baptists

DUSHANBE, October 23, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The Tajik government has suspended activities by Jehovah's Witnesses in the country because of their refusal to serve in the military, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported.

Two other Christian organizations -- an evangelistic Baptist group called Hayat Faravan (Full Life) and the missionary group Ehya (Revival) -- were also ordered to suspend their activities for three months.

Fyodor Jhitnikov, the head of Jehovah's Witnesses in Kazakhstan, said his group was surprised by the decision. "We are simply shocked," he said, adding that such a decision was "unexpected."

Tajik officials claim that these groups have increased their propaganda activities and bring an excessive amount of religious materials into the country. They also say that these organizations have criticized other religions, which is against Tajik law.

The head of the office for examining the expertise of religious issues in Tajikistan's Culture Ministry, Saidbek Muhammadaliev says the ministry suspended the Jehovah's Witnesses because the group "violates the Tajik Constitution's point about compulsory military service" and "the group's leaflets...agitate against [such service], and that violates the laws of every country."

Jehovah's Witnesses refuse to serve in the military due to a principle they call "Christian neutrality." They also are forbidden from holding political office.

(Mirzo Salimov and Ghodratollah Shahidi of RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report.)
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