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Sole Orthodox Church In Southern Tajik District Closed

Lyudmila Khojaeva, Lyudmila Khojaeva

Lyudmila Khojaeva, Lyudmila Khojaeva

KHATLON, Tajikistan, -- The local authorities in a district in southern Tajikistan have closed its only Orthodox church, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.

Local official Dilbar Nurova said on April 20 that the church in the Jaloliddin Rumi district of Khatlon Province was closed because it was not officially registered.

She said the congregation had submitted a registration application, but it was rejected because of "some shortcomings."

Nurova said that when the congregation submits a revised application, the church will be registered and they will be able to worship there. She noted that three local mosques have also been closed and must reregister.

Lyudmila Khojaeva, who heads the Union of Russian Speakers in Khatlon Province, said that closing the church just before Easter, one of the most important Christian festivals, is a blow to local Orthodox Christians. She said the authorities should have allowed more time to prepare the application for registration.

Russians are believed to account for 3-5 percent of Tajikistan's population of 7.3 million people.

The registration of new places of worship and the registration of existing mosques and churches is mandatory under the controversial law on religion passed in 2009.

That law has served as the rationale for closing mosques and some churches. During the first three months of 2011, 229 mosques were closed in Khatlon Province alone.