Belarus Detains Tajik Soccer Player Banned Because Of His Beard, Wife Says

Belarusian authorities have detained a Tajik former soccer player who was prevented from playing in Tajikistan several years ago because he wore a beard, his wife has told RFE/RL.

Tajikistan's soccer federation barred Parviz Tursunov, 43, from taking part in the national championship in 2011 after he refused to shorten his bushy beard. He played for the Khair soccer team in Vahdat, a district in a Dushanbe suburb.

There is no law against wearing a beard in Tajikistan. But unofficially, men below the age of 50 -- especially students and public-sector workers -- are strongly discouraged from growing one.

Tursunov was detained at the Minsk airport on September 17 while he was traveling with his family from Ukraine to Poland, his wife, Sayora Subkhonova, said on September 23.

Subkhonova and her four children remained at the airport for three days before they were sent back to Ukraine, she said by telephone from the port city of Odesa.

Belarusian law enforcement officers did not provide any information to Subkhonova, she said, and the country's authorities have not publicly commented on the case.

Subkhonova said her husband was being sought by Tajik authorities for being an alleged follower of the Salafi branch of Islam, which has been branded as extremist and banned in Tajikistan and other former Soviet republics.

"It all started when he was a soccer player. At first, because of his beard, he was not allowed to play. Then they gave him a choice -- to choose between his beard and his career in soccer. So he gave up soccer, we moved to Dubai, and he was accused of Salafism in his homeland," she said.

Tursunov and his family have lived in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates in recent years, but decided to move to a European country because they were facing registration problems with the local authorities, according to Subkhonova.

She said the family stayed in Turkey for three months, then traveled to Ukraine and Belarus on their way to Poland, where they planned to ask for asylum.