Tajikistan: arrest of lawyer raises concern over reprisals for defense of clients
The ICJ has deplored the arrest and detention on questionable charges of Jamshed Yorov (photo), a lawyer practicing in Tajikistan.
Following his arrest on 22 August 2016, the lawyer was remanded in custody in a pre-trial facility in Dushanbe for two months.
He was charged with “disclosure of State secrets” under part 1 of article 311 of the Criminal Code of Tajikistan.
Jamshed Yorov was detained on Monday, 22 August 2016. On the next day, he called his family and informed them that he was in police custody and being questioned in connection with the alleged leaked publication of the text of a classified court judgment on the internet.
The judgment concerned the case of thirteen leaders and three members of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), who had been sentenced on 2 June 2016 to various long-term custodial terms, including life-imprisonment.
Jamshed Yorov represented Mahmadali Hait, one of the leaders of the IRPT, who was sentenced to life imprisonment.
The ICJ is concerned that the decision to arrest Jamshed Yorov may have been in response to the legitimate exercise of his professional functions in representation of Mahmadali Hait.
Any such reprisal would be contrary to a fundamental tenet of the rule of law, reflected in the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, that lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions.
Additionally they must be able to perform all their profession functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.
The principles affirm that lawyers must not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognised professional duties, standards or ethics.
The ICJ calls on the Tajikistan authorities to comply with all international human rights obligations of Tajikistan, including the right to a fair trial, in the case of Jamshed Yorov.
In accordance with the right to liberty as enshrined in Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), pre-trial detention should be ordered in exceptional cases only as a last resort, and in any event there needs to be the possibility to seek bail.
The proceedings should take full account of Jamshed Yorov’s professional duties as a defense lawyer, and should ensure that he does not suffer any criminal or administrative sanction as a result of the discharge of these duties.
The ICJ is further concerned that Jamshed Yorov’s arrest is allegedly linked to disclosure of a ‘secret’ judgment.
Article 14(1) of ICCPR, which guarantees the right to a fair trial, provides that all court judgments must be made public except where the interest of juvenile persons otherwise requires, or where the proceedings concern matrimonial disputes or the guardianship of children.
More generally, under international standards everyone has the right to seek, receive, use, and impart information held by or on behalf of public authorities, or to which public authorities are entitled by law to have access.
While there are narrow exceptions on national security grounds, these are subject to strict limits and safeguards which do not appear to have been met.
This arrest follows a pattern of arrests of lawyers in 2014-2016, which raises serious concerns about the protection of the right to a fair trial and compliance with international standards on the role of lawyers in Tajikistan.
These arrests, including the arrest of Jamshed Yorov, may have a significant “chilling” effect on the willingness of defense lawyers to take on cases of clients that may be considered sensitive, especially cases that involve accusations of breach of national security and are heard in closed sessions.
Jamshed Yorov is the brother of Buzurgmehr Yorov, who was arrested in November 2015 and who led, before his arrest, the defence for seven leaders of the IRPT Political Council.
Burzurgmehr Yorov remains in remand prison, together with another lawyer, Nuriddin Makhamov, who also represented the IRPR and has been in remand prison since November 2015. Their trial is ongoing.
The ICJ and other international NGOs earlier expressed their concern that this case may also be connected with the performance of laweyers’ professional functions.
The ICJ also expressed its concern at the conviction of lawyer Shukhrat Kurdratov on 13 January 2015 on charges of fraud and bribery for which he was sentenced to nine years in prison. Despite recent reports of a possible amnesty, his conviction will remain in force.
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