KHUJAND, Tajikistan -- A nongovernmental organization that works with homeless children in Tajikistan has been banned after being accused of proselytizing, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.
The court in the northern city of Khujand cited several reasons on July 26 for the ban on Dasti Madad (Helping Hand), including a claim the NGO had engaged in Christian missionary work.
Dasti Madad representatives say the accusation is untrue.
Aleksandra Kolesnikova, a Dasti Madad lawyer, told RFE/RL on July 27 that the NGO was accused of proselytizing because in 2005 a group of young people in the organization left Dasti Madad and set up an organization called Hayoti Javonon (Life of the Youth).
Kolesnikova said Hayoti Javonon distributed gifts from foreign Christian missionary groups to children at official gatherings and special events, in violation of Tajik law. She said the Justice Ministry assumed Dasti Madad was doing the same things.
Kolesnikova said another reason cited by the court for closing the NGO was that its documentation was in Russian, not Tajik, the country's official language.
Dasti Madad was also criticized because the court said its teaching programs were not based on official school curriculum, even though it was providing a service the government was unable to perform.
Kolesnikova added that Dasti Madad has been active in the country for 11 years and has helped more than 500 homeless children by providing shelter, schooling, and defending their rights.
She said there are only a few NGOs in Tajikistan dedicated to helping homeless or street children -- two in Sughd province and one in the capital, Dushanbe.
Dasti Madad's work has not stopped as its founders have already created a new NGO, Sarchashma (Source), which has been registered with the Justice Ministry. They said they would continue to work with homeless children in Sughd under the new name.