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QURGHONTEPPA, Tajikistan -- Local officials in Tajikistan's Khatlon Province have demolished an unregistered mosque in the regional capital, Qurghonteppa, after reports it had "underage" worshippers, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.

Hikmatullo Mirzomurodov, 81, a regular worshipper at the mosque, told RFE/RL the local authorities discovered two teenagers were praying there in violation of the new law on religion that bars people under 18 from attending public places of worship.

The authorities therefore ruled that the mosque should be demolished as it was not formally registered. The congregation belatedly prepared an application to register the mosque, but it was ignored and the authorities went ahead with the demolition.

It is the first time in Khatlon that a mosque has been torn down for such reasons.

The mosque, which could accommodate 300 worshippers at daily prayers, was located on the central Mirzo Qodirov St.

Asadullo Shulashov, an aide to Qurghonteppa's chief prosecutor, said the 200 square-meter mosque was built in 2009 without permission. He said the head of the local community and the imam of the mosque were fined 350 somoni ($78) each for building the unregistered mosque.

Locals said the local imam was forced to leave the area and now lives in Russia.

Qamariddin Afzali, head of the Islamic Renaissance Party in Khatlon Province, said the authorities use every opportunity to close mosques. He added that in the Jomi district of Khatlon Province the authorities have banned prayers in at least 15 mosques.

Afzali asked local authorities to help register mosques in accordance with the new religion law instead of closing them or risk them being demolished.
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