Image Source: Harrington Spier
REGION: Central Asia

Amnesty International’s (AI) “In the Line of Duty: Harassment, Prosecution and Imprisonment of Lawyers in Tajikistan” details recent harassment, detention, and prosecution of lawyers involved in politically sensitive cases in Tajikistan. The report describes an uptick in such treatment in recent years, noting in particular increased state control over the licensing of lawyers, as well as heightened use of national security and counterterrorism concerns as justification for restricting freedoms of speech and association for lawyers. The article details the cases of four defense attorneys who were harassed, detained, or sentenced by authorities in Tajikistan: Shukhrat Kudratov, Buzurgmekhr Yorov, Jamshed Yorov, and Muazzamakhon Kadyrova. Finally, the article makes recommendations to different stakeholders that aim to increase rights protections for lawyers in Tajikistan.

In the last few years, in particular since November 2015 amendments to Tajikistan’s law governing the legal profession—the Law on Advokatura—lawyers in Tajikistan engaged in politically sensitive work have experienced heightened harassment and prosecution. For example, lawyers representing the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT) or Group 24—opposition political groups designated by the Supreme Court of Tajikistan as a “terrorist” and “extremist” organization, respectively—have been charged with national security offenses or imprisoned, or have fled the country for fear of reprisal against themselves or their families. In some cases, lawyers have been tried in closed proceedings. National security charges have become more common along with increased prevalence of national security and terrorism in the political discourse in Tajikistan over the last three years. The article details four cases in particular: Shukhrat Kudratov (sentenced to nine years in prison, later reduced to five years and four months), Buzurgmekhr Yorov (sentenced to a total of 25 years in prison, in connection with his work with IRPT clients), Jamshed Yorov (left Tajikistan after experiencing harassment by security forces), and Muazzamakhon Kadyrova (left Tajikistan after questioning and surveillance by authorities in connection to her representation of Buzurgmekhr Yorov).

The November 2015 amendments included increased state control over the licensing of lawyers, threatening the independence of the profession and resulting in a dramatic decrease in the number of licensed lawyers in the country. The amendments created a Qualifying Commission, which tests and licenses lawyers, and placed it under the Ministry of Justice. Furthermore, authorities required all licensed lawyers to re-qualify in March 2016 under the new procedures or lose their licenses. These changes precipitated a decrease in licensed lawyers by over 50% nationwide. AI notes that increased executive control over the licensing process contravenes Principle 24 of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, which guarantees the right of lawyers to join “self-governing professional associations” that operate “without external interference.”

Finally, the article makes recommendations that aim to increase rights protections for lawyers in Tajikistan. For the complete recommendations, see the full report. With regard to international partners, AI recommends raising the individual cases documented in the report; emphasizing that restrictions on freedom of expression and association, as well as procedural irregularities in trials, violate Tajikistan’s international obligations; increasing monitoring of human rights violations in Tajikistan; and including human rights as a topic of discussion in all bilateral and multilateral fora involving Tajikistan.

NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

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