DUSHANBE -- Private mobile-phone companies in Tajikistan have begun sending out text messages to millions of citizens, reminding them to obey a new law that makes Tajik national clothing obligatory at “traditional” gatherings such as weddings and commemorative ceremonies for the dead.
The legislation is widely seen as an attempt to prevent Tajik women from wearing the Islamic hijab and to discourage men from wearing Islamic clothing -- part of an ongoing government campaign to combat radicalism.
The text messages were being sent to some 6 million mobile-phone users on September 6, a day after the state Women’s and Family Affairs Committee sent a letter instructing a half dozen private mobile operators in Tajikistan to do so.
One of the messages written by the state committee instructs Tajiks to “observe Tajik traditional clothes,” while another tells citizens to “respect traditional clothes.”
A third message from the state committee that was being transmitted on September 6 said: “Let’s make it a tradition to wear traditional clothes."
Tajik President Emomoli Rahmon on August 28 signed the law, which obliges individuals and organizations "to stick to traditional and national clothes and culture” at so-called “traditional” gatherings.
The legislation amended a 10-year-old law that governs the practice of traditions, rites, and celebrations in Tajikistan.
It says citizens of Tajikistan have an obligation to observe and respect the state language and “the style of wearing national traditional clothes.”
Human rights activists say Tajikistan’s government uses the term “nontraditional dress” and "alien garments" as euphemisms for the Islamic hijab.
Although the new law does not specifically mention the hijab, authorities in the past have said that head scarves that cover the front of a woman’s neck are a form of “alien culture and traditions.”
Hilolbi Qurbonzoda, chief of the lower chamber of parliament’s Committee on Social Affairs, has said that separate legislation on possible punishment for those who wear "alien Islamic garments" rather than "traditional" Tajik clothing would be outlined by parliament soon.
Since May 2016, authorities in the predominantly Muslim Central Asian country of around 8 million have closed down scores of shops for selling women's religious clothing that does not conform with what the government calls "national traditions."
In early August, more than 8,000 hijab-wearing women were stopped in public places across Dushanbe by teams of state officials who instructed them about how to wear head scarves in the style of “traditional national clothing” -- that is, by tying the scarf with a knot behind the head in a way that leaves the front of the neck exposed.
Tajik police have asserted that some women and girls associated with alleged terrorist organizations can be identified because they follow "alien culture and traditions."
The U.S. State Department has raised concerns with Dushanbe about what it says are the Tajik government’s attempts to control all aspects of religious life in the country.
That includes government control over the approval and registration of religions, the construction of places of worship, the distribution of religious literature, and religious education for children.
Tajikistan's laws on religion also restrict the locations of Islamic prayer and prohibit children under the age of 18 from taking part in public religious activities.
Private religious ceremonies, including funerals and weddings, also are increasingly regulated by state officials.
Tajikistan’s government argues that its strict controls on religion are necessary to prevent the growth of what it calls Islamic "extremist" organizations and terrorist groups.