© Amnesty International

Tajikistani lawyers harassed, intimidated and imprisoned

Tajikistani authorities have dealt a major blow to the legal profession through political manipulation of the criminal justice system and repressive legislation, Amnesty International said today ahead of the country’s National Lawyer Day.

A new briefing reveals a raft of repressive government tactics used to intimidate, silence and crush lawyers in the country, punishing them for the legitimate exercise of their professional duty. Over the last two years, the number of licensed lawyers fell by more than half.

“In a country where fundamental freedoms barely exist, where government critics are incarcerated and independent media silenced; lawyers –particularly human rights lawyers – play an essential role in defending those whose rights are under attack,” said Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International.

“The government has turned its attention to lawyers and launched an unrelenting assault that has drastically reduced their numbers and limited their independence; and seen those who put their professional duty above fear of reprisal thrown behind bars.”

Amendments adopted in November 2015 to the law regulating licencing requirements for lawyers brought the process back under control of the Ministry of Justice. The number of licensed lawyers has fallen from more than 1200 in 2015, to just 600 today.

Lawyers who defended clients accused of “extremism” have themselves faced increasing state abuse and persecution, including punitive arrest and long prison terms following unfair trials. The families of lawyers have also faced harassment and intimidation from Tajikistani security forces and local authorities.

Lawyers Buzurgmekhr Yorov and Nuriddin Makhkamov defended detained members of the recently banned opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan in September 2015. Now they both languish in prison, with little access to their families, after being convicted on terrorism-related charges and sentenced to terms of more than 20 years each.

After Yorov and Makhkamov’s arrest, few of their colleagues were prepared to defend them. Muazzamakhon Kadyrova took up their case but was forced to flee the country after learning she faced imminent arrest.

“These cases are stark reminders of the risks faced by lawyers in Tajikistan when, in their legitimate line of duty, they defend the human rights of those the authorities declare a threat to national security,” said Denis Krivosheev.

“Amnesty International is calling on the Tajikistani authorities to free those lawyers currently being held behind bars after being convicted in unfair trials and to urgently review the legislation that has caused the disbarment of more than half of their profession in the past two years.”

The Tajikistani authorities must also respect human rights, including those of lawyers. All lawyers in Tajikistan must be able to perform their professional duties without hindrance and fear of reprisals.

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