Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are Central Asian nations with teetering economies. The Economist Intelligence Unit, for instance, says “the risk of sovereign default” in Kyrgyzstan is high, while adding that “poverty, unemployment, austerity, power shortages and political oppression are possible sources of destabilization in 2024-25” in Tajikistan.

Eurasianet notes that despite the two countries’ myriad economic challenges, lawmakers and law-enforcers in both countries are making time to crack down on sorcery and fortune-telling.

In Tajikistan, authorities literally went on a witch hunt, resulting in the arrest of more than 50 alleged practitioners of dark arts in the remote Bobojon-Ghafourov district, Sughd province. 

Earlier in May, the government reportedly approved amendments that criminalized sorcery, fortune-telling and similar services, characterizing their practitioners as grifters.  Prior to the revision, such offenses were treated as administrative offenses.

“Each [of those arrested] provided services to residents of the district and neighboring territories, using various tricks and techniques to make money,” said the Tajik Interior Ministry statement about the security sweep. At least one of those detained is facing a criminal charge of fraud.

An official statement released by the Tajik Interior Ministry last month says inspection and preventive work is continuing in Tajikistan to prevent violations related to non-compliance with the requirements of the country’s laws on streamlining the traditions, celebrations and ceremonies, on parental responsibility, and on freedom of conscience and religious associations.  “In this context, control is exercised over persons practicing witchcraft, illegal religious teachings and a mullah distributing talismans and amulets, and a single register has been equated to such persons,” says the statement

Police stated that such violations of the law will be punished more severely in future, with the country’s Interior Ministry considering people engaged in various “occult” businesses as fraudsters.  “Persons earning a living by fraud (witchcraft, fortune-telling, distribution of talismans and amulets, illegal religious instruction) are expected to be punished with a six-month correctional labor.

Back in 2007, against a backdrop of rising energy prices, unemployment and discontent, the government developed a bill banning witchcraft and fortune-tellers, the visiting of whom was a popular pastime in Tajikistan.   

In Kyrgyzstan, MPs similarly cracked down on conjuring, adopting amendments to ban public advertising by those professing to be healers and psychics, or anyone else claiming to be in possession of a crystal ball or eye of newt.

The ban reportedly extends not just to print and broadcast media, but also covers social media.  The measure is designed to prevent “unscrupulous citizens” from taking advantage of vulnerable segments of society, said Marlen Mamataliyev, one of the sponsors of the amendments.