The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has renewed its call for the immediate release of Buzurgmehr Yorov, an imprisoned Tajikistan lawyer, and expressed deep concern over his recent additional sentencing. This follows the decision by Vahdat city court on 10 July 2023 to add an extra ten years to Yorov’s existing sentence, accusing him of large-scale fraud.
Buzurgmehr Yorov has been arbitrarily imprisoned since 28 September 2015 following a patently unfair trial on conviction of trial on charges of fraud, forging documents, insulting government representatives, disrespecting the court, and offending the Leader of the Nation – the President of Tajikistan. These charges, the ICJ believes, were used as a pretext due to his work representing politically disfavoured clients, such as 14 members of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT).
Yorov has been in prison since 28 September 2015. His initial charges were fraud and forging documents. Yorov was faced with additional accusations, including insulting government representatives, disrespecting the court, and offending the Leader of the Nation – the President of Tajikistan. In 2016, Yorov was sentenced to 28 years in prison, but his sentence was reduced by four years in 2021 due to an amnesty law.
The ICJ deplores the recent trial, which took place from 8 to 10 July 2023 as it was conducted behind closed doors without Yorov being represented by a lawyer, in contravention of international fair trial standards.
The Court reportedly ordered that Buzurgmehr Yorov should spend the first two years of the new sentence in a closed prison, and the remaining eight years in a penal colony in the Yavan region. The ICJ is concerned about the conditions of Yorov’s confinement and the lack of transparency around the procedures and charges against him.
The ICJ recalls the decision of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) which found that Yorov’s trials had been conducted in flagrant disregard of international law including right to liberty (Article 9 ICCPR), right to a fair trial (article 14), right not to be punished without a crime (Article 15), rendering his imprisonment arbitrary. The WGAD had recommended that Mr. Yorov be immediately released and be accorded a right to compensation and other reparations in accordance with international law.
The ICJ has repeatedly expressed concern over the integrity of Yorov’s trials and convictions, and the risk of additional human rights violations he would face . In 2017, it was reported that Yorov had been subjected to physical and psychological abuse in detention, conduct which amounts to torture or other ill-treatment.
The ICJ considers that Buzurgmehr has been the subject of targeted persecution due to his work representing politically disfavoured clients, such as members of the banned IRPT.
“Instead of attacking lawyers for performing their important profession functions in conformity with the rule of law, the Tajikistan authorities should be taking measures to ensure and safeguard lawyers’ security and independence”, Temur Shakirov, Interim Director for ICJ Europe and Central Asia Programme said.
The ICJ calls on the Tajikistan authorities to implement the decision of the WGAD, immediately release Mr. Yorov, and take necessary measures to protect him and his family.
The ICJ remains concerned over the arrest and conviction of Buzurgmehr Yorov and other lawyers in Tajikistan. Such actions cast a shadow over the independence of the legal profession, casting a blow to the rule of law and human rights in the country.
In 2019, the UN WGAD, an independent body of experts established by the UN Human Rights Council with a quasi-judicial function, found that Tajikistan had violated a number of rights guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including articles 2 (1), 9 (1), (2), (3) and (4), 14 (1), (2), (3) (b), (d), (e) and (g) and (5), 15, 19, 21, 25 and 26 . They prescribed remedy his immediate release, payment of compensation or other reparation and conducting an effective investigation into the violation of Yorov’s rights.
The new sentence follows a complaint filed by a prisoner named Hasan Hasanov, which led to the new fraud charges against Yorov. Hasanov claims to have given Yorov 42,500 somonis (over $4,000) for legal services that were never provided. Yorov, however, denies receiving the money and called Hasanov’s claim slanderous.
The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers require that the Governments ensure that lawyers “are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference”. Under these Principles “where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities.” The right to “offer and provide professionally qualified legal assistance or other relevant advice and assistance in defending human rights and fundamental freedoms” is also affirmed under UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (Article 9.3(c)).Web stories