Authorities in Tajikistan are being accused of stepping up a years-long campaign against full beards by denying international passports to men who turn up shaggy for their photos.

President Emomali Rahmon has publicly discouraged beards, which are regarded by many officials in this impoverished Central Asian state as a foreign intrusion on local culture or a telltale sign of religious or other extremism.

During one recent week, more than a dozen Tajik men told Radio Liberty’s Tajik Service that passport officials had demanded that they return without beards if they want those essential international travel documents.

In 2011, soccer player Parviz Tursunov was prevented from playing in Tajikistan's national championship game after he refused to shorten his beard.  He eventually quit the Tajik league and moved to Dubai before eventually seeking asylum in Europe.

Some 97 percent of Tajiks are Muslim, but religious activities were strictly limited during seven decades under Soviet domination.

In addition to their more recent clear discouragement of long beards for men, Tajik officials have imposed strict dress codes against "imported" styles including the Muslim head scarf, known as the hijab, for women.

Emomali Rahmon is a leading advocate of a secular cultural life for Tajikistan's 8.5 million people, who have contributed a disproportionately high number of militants to Islamic State (IS) and other radical groups in Syria and Iraq in years past.

Emomali Rahmon gave a televised address in 2017 in which he urged Tajiks not to grow beards or wear the hijab. "Love God with [your] hearts," he said, not through "external attributes" like beards.

The apparent curb on facial hair got public support in October from Saidmukarram Abdulqodirzoda, the chairman of Tajikistan's state-appointed Islamic council.

"This action is justified by the need for security and the ability to match the passport photo to the actual face of the person.  This initiative will help to better identify [Tajik citizens]," Abdulqodirzoda said, noting the presence in Tajikistan of members of "different ethnic groups from neighboring Afghanistan."

In recent years, thousands of Tajik men have been stopped by police or security forces on the streets or in markets and had their beards forcibly shaved.