Police in Tajikistan have shaved nearly 13,000 people’s beards and closed more than 160 shops selling traditional Muslim clothing last year as part of the country’s fight against what it calls “foreign” influences.
Bahrom Sharifzoda, the head of the south-west Khathlon region’s police, said at a press conference on Wednesday that the law enforcement services convinced more than 1,700 women and girls to stop wearing headscarves in the Muslim-majority Central Asian country.
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The move is seen as part of efforts to battle what authorities deem “radicalism”.
Tajikistan’s secular leadership has long sought to prevent an overspill of what it sees as unwelcome traditions from neighbouring Afghanistan.
Last week, the country’s parliament voted to ban Arabic-sounding “foreign” names as well as marriages between first cousins.
The legislation is expected to be approved by President Emomali Rahmon, who has taken steps to promote secularism and discourage beliefs and practices that he sees as foreign or a threat to the stability of Tajikistan, Radio Liberty said.
In September, Tajikistan’s Supreme Court banned the country’s only registered Islamic political party, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan.
Rahmon has ruled Tajikistan since 1994 and his current presidential term is expected to end in 2020.
In December, the parliament granted the president and his family life-long immunity from prosecution, giving Rahmon the title “Leader of the nation” and officially designating him “the founder of peace and national unity of Tajikistan”.
The country of 7.1 million people has struggled with poverty and instability since independence from the Soviet Union more than two decades ago. It remains heavily dependent on Russia, where the majority of Tajik people go for work.
According to unofficial estimates, there are more than 2,000 Tajiks fighting in Syria.