Tajikistan: long prison sentences for lawyers endangers the fairness of the justice system
The ICJ today expressed its serious concerns over the convictions on charges of incitement and extremism of Tajikistan lawyers Buzurgmehr Yorov and Nuriddin Makhkamov, and their sentencing to 23 and 21 years in prison respectively.
“These convictions, which continue a recent pattern of persecution of lawyers in the country, will contribute to the already poor climate for the independence of the legal profession in Tajikistan,” said Róisín Pillay, Director of the ICJ’s Europe and CIS Programme.
“The ICJ calls on the Government of Tajikistan to ensure that the two lawyers are able to appeal their convictions through a fair process before an independent court,” she added. “It should ensure that criminal prosecution is not used by the executive as a means to limit lawyers in the exercise of their professional duty, and that lawyers do not suffer any reprisals due to their identification with their clients’ causes.”
On 6 October, the two lawyers were sentenced by the Dushanbe City Court on a number of charges, which included incitement to feud, calls for a violent change of the constitutional order and extremist activity.
They were also banned from working as lawyers for five years after serving their sentences.
Buzurgmehr Yorov, head of the Sipar Collegium of Lawyers, was arrested on 28 September 2015. Nuriddin Makhkamov, a lawyer of the same Collegium, was taken into police custody on 22 October 2015.
Both lawyers represented members of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) at the time of their arrests.
At the trial, which was closed to the public, with only relatives allowed to attend, the lawyers denied their guilt and argued that the case was politically motivated and related to their defence of IPRT members.
Buzurgmehr Yorov was reported to have testified during the trial that he took up the case not because of a sympathy for the IRPT but because of his professional duty as a lawyer.
These convictions raise significant concerns under international human rights law and international standards on the role of lawyers.
It is a fundamental principle, necessary for the right to fair trial and recognized in international standards on the role of lawyers, that lawyers should never be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their professional functions.
The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers further require governments to ensure that lawyers “are able to preform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference” (Principle 16).
The case also gives rise to concerns regarding respect for the right to a fair trial protected by Article 14 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, to which Tajikistan is a party.
“These attacks continue a wave of arrests and charges against lawyers in Tajikistan,” said Pillay.
“They create a chilling effect on the proper exercise of professional duties by other members of the legal profession, endangering the right to a fair trial and undermining the justice system,” she added. “The ICJ therefore calls on the Government to take urgent measures to prevent further such attacks on lawyers.”
Róisín Pillay, Director, ICJ Europe and CIS Programme, t: +32 2 734 84 46; e: roisin.pillay(a)icj.org
Temur Shakirov, Legal Adviser, ICJ Europe and CIS Programme, t: +41 22 979 38 32; e: temur.shakirov(a)icj.org
Buzurgmehr Yorov was arrested on 28 September 2015 and initially changed with fraud. Other charges were added later during his pre-trial detention. He was sentenced to 23 years imprisonment on charges of incitement to national, racial, local or religious feud (Article 189 of the Criminal Code (CC)), fraud (Article 247 of the CC), public calls to a violent change of the constitutional order (Article 307 of the CC), public calls to conduct extremist activity (Article 3071 of the CC), forgery, production or sale of forged documents, state awards, stamps, forms (Article 340 of the CC).
Nuriddin Makhkamov was arrested on 22 October 2015. He was initially charged with fraud. Further charges were added during his pre-trial detention. He was convicted on charges including incitement to national, racial, local or religious feud (Article 189 of the CC), fraud (Article 247 of the CC), public calls to a violent change of the constitutional order (Article 307 of the CC), public calls to conduct extremist activity (Article 3071 of the CC).
The IRPT was found to be a terrorist organization by the Supreme Court of Tajikistan in 2015 and banned. Its leaders received long prison sentences in closed trials on charges of terrorism, extremism and attempts to overthrow the constitutional order.
A number of other prominent lawyers have been arrested and convicted in Tajikistan since 2014. Some have been released, others remain in detention, including Shukhrat Kudratov, the lawyer of the former Minister of Energy Zaid Saidov, convicted on fraud and bribery charges in 2015.
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