DUSHANBE -- Tajik prosecutors have launched an investigation into suspected fraud in connection with the sale of bogus permits to unsuspecting people hoping to avoid falling afoul of official efforts to combat religious extremism.
The "permits" -- which grant permission to Muslims to wear long beards in the case of men, or head scarves (hijabs) in the case of women -- purport to be from the State Committee for Religion and Traditions and Rites Regulations.
Officials at the Prosecutor-General's Office told RFE/RL on May 18 that investigations are targeting the "repeated forgery of documents" and the "incitement of religious, ethnic, racial, and social hatred."
Tajik users on social networks have been exchanging information on how to obtain such permits after copies, which bear photos and official-looking seals, began circulating on Facebook in April.
A forged document for wearing a beard
Tajiks have reported paying 250 somonis ($40) to the Committee for Religion and Traditions and Rites Regulation for the bogus documents.
However, that committee has denied involvement in the issuance of any such permits. It suggested in a statement issued on April 24 that those who spread "misinformation" are seeking to "disrupt trust between the committee and ordinary citizens."
The development takes place against a backdrop of a Tajik government campaign to promote secularism. Tajik authorities have banned religious head scarves for schoolgirls, prohibited minors from mosques, and forced thousands of students to return home from Islamic schools abroad in recent months.
On April 27, the Tajik Interior Ministry said two police officers in the northern Sughd Province had been reprimanded after a video showing them forcing a local Muslim to shave his beard circulated on the Internet.
Meanwhile, media reports in Tajikistan suggested police pressure on Muslims across the country to shave their beards has been on the rise.
Some reports claim that hundreds of young Tajiks are traveling to Syria and Iraq to fight along with Islamic State (IS) militants.
President Emomali Rahmon's government has repeatedly called for strengthening secular principles in his predominantly Muslim Central Asian republic of 8.5 million people.