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A Tajik girl cleans a rug as two women pass by her in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe. (file photo)
A branch of the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) in the southern Tajik city of Kulob has complained that authorities are pressuring women who wear the hijab, the Islamic head scarf.

Local IRP leader Mahmadsharif Nabiev suggests that the harassment began after a visit to the region last month by President Emomali Rahmon.

Rahmon was reportedly heard to make disparaging comments about women in "Islamic clothing" in Kulob.

Since then, Nabiev says, several local officials have tried to ban women wearing Islamic dress from schools, universities, and even from working in the local bazaar.

Nabiev says women have asked his party to champion their right to dress as they choose.

He also says that in meetings with locals in southern Kulob on August 23, Rahmon urged parents to bring their children back from Islamic schools (madrasahs) abroad and advised women to wear Tajik national dress.

Nabiev says local officials and police misinterpreted Rahmon's comments and have increased pressure on women who wear head scarves and other clothing viewed as Islamic.

On September 1, as students celebrated the start of the school year, Rahmon met with students in Dushanbe and repeated concerns that many young Tajik girls choose to wear Islamic clothing. He added that some parents send their children to public schools while others are sending their kids to madrasahs. Rahmon noted that "we are at a crossroads [on this issue] and so we have to choose which path to take."

He also used tough language in describing the women who choose to wear head scarves, although an official transcript of his televised speech softened the language, likening such women to "black birds."

Kulov resident Fotima Rahimova tells RFE/RL that her daughters were told not to wear head scarves and not to cover their hair or they would face fines of up to 500 somoni ($114). Rahimova adds that officials attributed their crackdown to Rahmon's instructions.

Contacted by RFE/RL, Davlat Amirov, the Education Ministry's Kulob branch director, can neither confirm nor deny that fines were handed out to people who wore Islamic clothes at schools and universities. But he stresses that the Tajik government and the Education Ministry mandated a uniform that should be worn at schools and universities, and he says authorities must enforce that regulation.

While a ban on the hijab at schools and universities is nothing new in Tajikistan, a ban of the hijab in bazaars and other markets would be.

Safarkhuja Qudratov, a merchant in the Kulob bazaar, confirms that local officials recently met with her and other female workers at the bazaar and instructed them not to wear Islamic clothes.

But Tohir Odinaev, the deputy head of Kulob's main bazaar, says officials merely advised women to wear "national" clothes and did not say that anything is mandatory.

IRP members criticize the recent actions and say such polarizing approaches play into the hands of Islamic extremists.
Arjang Davoodi (undated)
Hunger-striking Iranian political activist Arjang Davudi has been allowed to see his wife for the first time since his prison protest started two months ago, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reports.

Davudi, who is said to be in a severely weakened condition, was arrested in 2003 on charges related to his founding of the Freedom Movement of Iranians political group.

He began his hunger strike to protest the alleged violation of his rights in Tehran's Gohardasht prison, where he is serving a 10-year sentence.

Nazanin Davudi, Arjang Davudi's wife, told Radio Farda that he is continuing his hunger strike despite his poor health.

"Since last Thursday [September 9] when I visited him after nearly two months, we could talk on phone once but he couldn't talk to me freely," she told Radio Farda.

Nazanin Davudi added that Mohammad Ali Dadkhah and Amir Raeesiyan are officially acting as Davudi's lawyers and are trying to persuade him to end his hunger strike.

"[The lawyers] told me that as long as he is on the hunger strike the judiciary officials won't reply to our requests and won't be cooperative with us," she told Radio Farda.

Davudi's wife also noted that pressure from the international press on the Iranian government had been helpful in getting officials to allow her to visit her husband.

"After nearly a month and a half and after pressure from the media and my frequent requests, the Iranian authorities eventually allowed me to visit my husband," she told Radio Farda.

At their last visit, Arjang Davudi told his wife that as long as the prison officials continue to ignore his basic rights he will continue his hunger strike.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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