A court in Tajikistan has doubled down of the hunt on the country’s banned Islamic party by sentencing two of its lawyers to more 20 years in jail in a startlingly draconian and unfounded punishment.
The Dushanbe court on October 6 ruled that Buzurgmehr Yorov and Nuriddin Makhamov should serve 23 and 21 years in a penal colony, respectively, after being found guilty of flagrantly trumped-up charges of fraud, inciting hatred and extremism, among other things. Both men will be barred from working as lawyers for five years after their release.
New York-based Human Rights Watch called the trial against the two lawyers, who had attracted the authorities attention after taking up the case of jailed members of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT), “politically motivated.”
“The Tajik government is tightening the screws on lawyers it deems trouble, locking up those who represent the opposition, and even those who represent the ones who represent them,” Marius Fossum, Regional Representative at the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, said in a statement distributed by Human Rights Watch. “Each day these lawyers spend behind bars is a disgrace and brings shame on Tajikistan’s judicial system.”
Yorov and Makhkamov took up the cause of representing 13 leading members of the IRPT, whose entire leadership has since been convicted on charges of attempting to topple the government, when no other colleagues had the temerity to take the same risk.
In the days after the arrest of the IRPT leaders, in September 2015, Yorov public complained that one of the jailed men, party deputy leader Saidumar Khusaini had been tortured while in detention.
“At first they offered him a [position in government], but after he refused, they put a bag over his head and started to beat him,” Yorov said.
That kind of vocal representation on behalf of the IRPT did Yorov no favors.
Tajikistan has been working hard to destroy the independence of the legal profession through indiscriminate jailing and fixes to the law.
Authorities were similarly merciless with the defenders of another ally-turned-opposition figure Zaid Saidov, who was sentenced to a lengthy term in jail in 2013 after founding a political party. Two of his lawyers — Shukhrat Kudratov and Fahriddin Zokirov — were also subsequently sent to prison. Two sons of another lawyer, Ishok Tabarov, were then also arrested and jailed. Tabarov died, reportedly of heart failure, only 10 days after the conviction of a second son.
The Tajik government has barely made a secret of its contempt for rule of law in its regard to lawyers.
Parliament in November 2015 approved legislation obliging lawyers to renew their license with the Justice Ministry on a five-yearly basis. Experts warn this procedure will result in purging the profession of independent lawyers, which is indeed precisely what the authorities are hoping to achieve.
The law automatically denies a legal license to anybody with a criminal conviction, so in the best-case scenario, lawyers that fall of maliciously instigated legal proceedings will in any case be unable to continue practicing, even if they are released.