Arrest and detention of lawyers in Tajikistan

Who we wrote to

We wrote to Emomali Rahmon, president of the Republic of Tajikistan. We wrote jointly with Lawyers for Lawyers and Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada.

What’s the issue

We welcome the release of Shukhrat Kudratov in August 2018 after he was imprisoned on embezzlement and bribery charges in 2015. Mr Kudratov was sentenced to nine years, which was later shortened to three years and eight months.

However, we understand that, since his release, Mr Kudratov has been visited by the police at least six times and it’s not clear why these visits have taken place. It’s also been reported that Mr Kudratov has been prohibited from carrying out his functions as a lawyer after completion of his prison term.

Mr Kudratov’s arrest and detention seem to have been related to his legal representation of Mr Zaid Saidov.

Before the December 2013 presidential elections, Mr Saidov sought to create a new opposition party, was arrested in May 2013 and sentenced in November 2013 to 26 years’ imprisonment.

We understand that Mr Zokirov, another legal representative of Mr Zaid, was also arrested and detained on fraud charges but has since been released.

As well as the cases of Mr Kudratov and Mr Zokirov, several cases have been recorded where lawyers have had to leave the country because of reprisals taken against them for legally representing opposition politicians or other lawyers who represent such politicians.

These events show there’s an organised practice of arresting, detaining, and prosecuting lawyers who represent opposition politicians. This practice goes against the well-established principle that lawyers should not be identified with their clients or clients’ causes.

This has the chilling effect of there being no independent legal representation, in violation of the fair trial guarantee.

In November 2015, amendments were made to the law on the legal profession (advokatura) that requires lawyers to renew their licenses with the Justice Ministry rather than with an independent bar association. The presidency of the Qualifying Commission is held by a deputy minister of justice.

This threatens the independence of the legal profession. Another outcome of these amendments is that the number of licensed lawyers has decreased from more than 1,200 in 2015 to 600 in May 2017. This means that access to justice for all citizens in Tajikistan is now severely restricted.

What we asked for

We respectfully urged that the relevant authorities:

  • ensure that the conditions in detention of Mr Yorov, Mr Makhkamov, and other lawyers who are detained, comply with applicable international standards
  • ensure that any violation of the physical integrity of lawyers is fully and promptly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice
  • ensure that lawyers can appeal their convictions through an independent, impartial judicial proceeding that is open to the public and in which all rules regarding due process are respected, including that lawyers should be able to choose their legal representatives
  • investigate promptly and effectively any credible allegations of lawyers being threatened, intimidated, and harassed
  • review the existing legislation, in particular the amendments to the Law on the legal profession, and amend those provisions that restrict the independence of lawyers
  • release immediately the lawyers in detention and revoke any charges pending against them, unless sufficient evidence is available which is served upon them and their guilt is established in proceedings carried out in accordance with fair trial guarantees
  • comply with Tajikistan’s international obligations to ensure that lawyers can carry out their professional functions without harassment and improper interference

Timeline

May 2013 – Saidov Zaid was arrested

November 2013 – Mr Saidov was sentenced to 26 years imprisonment

2015 – Shukhrat Kudratov was imprisoned on embezzlement and bribery charges

November 2015 – amendments were made to the law on the legal profession (advokatura)

22 August 2016 – Jamshed Yorov, a defence lawyer in the case against members of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, was detained on charges of “divulging state secrets”

27 December 2016 – Muazzamakhon Kadirova, a defence lawyer in the case of two other lawyers, Buzurgmehr Yorov and Nuriddin Makhkamov, was summoned to the Prosecutor General’s Office and questioned. After having been under surveillance and learning that a criminal case was being prepared against her, she has had to leave the country

August 2018 – Shukhrat Kudratov was released