The ICJ is alarmed at the arrest of Buzurgmehr Yorov, a lawyer practicing in Tajikistan.
Mr Yorov’s arrest may be related to his representation of thirteen leaders of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT).
This is the third recent case of arrest of a lawyer in Tajikistan, and this pattern of arrests raises serious concerns for protection of human rights and compliance with international standards on the role of lawyers.
On 28 September, at 10.00, police officers appeared at the “Sipar” Collegia of lawyers, which is headed by Buzurgmehr Yorov, and seized documents related to the case of the members of the IRPT who Mr Yorov represents. At around 14.00, other police officers apprehended the lawyer at his office, claiming he needed to answer certain questions. The lawyer later made a phone call to say that he had been arrested and detained.
On 29 September, the Ministry of Interior of Tajikistan, in its Press Release, said that Buzurgmehr Yorov “by way of fraud” appropriated “a large amount of money”.
According to the Ministry of the Interior, a resident of Istaravshan named Komiljhon Bozorov paid USD 4000 to help with the case of his son, who was charged with an attempted murder. Mr Bozorov is reported to claim that the lawyer failed to provide legal aid and “abused his trust and his difficult situation”.
Mr Yorov is also charged with forging documents about the technical condition of a car.
The ICJ fears that the decision to arrest lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov was in fact connected with his representation of members of the IRPT.
The ICJ recalls that according to the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, “Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions”; they must be able “to perform all their profession functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference”; and lawyers “shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards or ethics”.
The ICJ’s concerns in this case are based in part on the particularly worrying pattern of arrests of lawyers , who represent clients in “high profile” cases, that has emerged in the recent past in the Republic of Tajikistan.
It should be recalled that it is lawyers’ role to defend persons charged with alleged crimes. The justice system cannot function in accordance with international standards if lawyers are not able to represent their clients’ interests.
For the right to a fair trial as guaranteed under international human rights law to be protected, defendants must have access to a lawyer who can represent their interests effectively, without harassment or interference.
The ICJ calls on the authorities of Tajikistan to ensure that all lawyers are able to conduct their work without fear of threats or harassment, including arbitrary arrest or prosecution.
It calls on the investigating authorities to ensure that Burzurgmehr Yorov is not prosecuted as a means of harassment or reprisal for his representation of a client, and that any proceedings against him are conducted in accordance with international human rights law, including the right to a fair hearing, and taking into account international standards on the role of lawyers.
Whether or not his arrest is in reality based on his representation of IRPT, or on the basis of the allegations of fraud, Mr Yorov should be immediately released.
Even if the arrest was in fact based on the allegations of fraud, the ICJ is unaware of any evidence or reasons in Mr Yorov’s case that would justify his continued pre-trial detention, under international standards on the right to liberty and the prohibition of arbitrary arrest and detention.
Thirteen persons, represented by Burzurgmehr Yorov, were arrested on 16-17 September 2015, following armed attacks earlier this year in Dushanbe and Vakhdat.
Members of the group are accused of “establishment of a criminal community/organization in order to commit grave or particularly grave crimes”, as foreseen under Article 187(1) of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Tajikistan.
The arrest and detention of Mr Yorov is the third case in the last two years of prosecution of a lawyer representing clients in a high profile case in Tajikistan. On 13 January 2015, lawyer Shukhrat Kudratov was convicted to 9 years in prison on charges of fraud and bribery.
In 2014, another lawyer, Fakhriddin Zokirov, was arrested and tried on charges of fraud in banking transactions. He was released as a part of an act of amnesty in November 2014.
Tajikistan-Lawyer Yorov statement-News-web stories-2015-RUS (full text in Russian, PDF)
For further infromation see previous ICJ statements: