Ishoq Tabarov, a 61-year old Tajik lawyer who represented jailed businessman-cum-politician Zaid Saidov, died in Dushanbe on June 12. Tabarov’s death comes only 10 days after his second son, Daler, was sentenced by a court in Vahdat to six months in jail for failure to report a crime–the crime in question has not been publicly specified.
Tabarov’s other son, Firuz, was sentenced to 13.5 years in prison in February. The charges against Firuz included extremism and promoting antistate propaganda.
Tabarov had long maintained that the pursuit of charges against his sons was politically motivated. As Human Rights Watch noted earlier this year in a profile of the Tajik government’s persecution of lawyers, the elder Tabarov was “the only member of Saidov’s legal team not facing criminal charges.” Instead, advocates argued, the government pursued cases against his sons.
According to RFE/RL, Tabarov’s relatives say he’d lost weight in the past year as his sons faced government charges. Doctors said the cause of his death was stroke, according to his wife, Zuhro Sherova. Asia-Plus reported that Tabarov had been hospitalized a few days ahead of his death but “physicians failed to diagnose [the] illness he suffered from.”
Tabarov, along with Shukhrat Kudratov and Fakhriddin Zokirov, defended Zaid Saidov, a prominent businessman, former minister, and short-lived presidential hopeful. Saidov formed a political party (New Tajikistan) ahead of the 2012 presidential elections. He was arrested and charged with fraud, polygamy, and rape. After conviction in December 2013, he was sentenced to 26 years in jail. In August 2015, Saidov was given three more years on additional charges of forgery, abuse of office, embezzlement, and tax evasion.
After Saidov’s conviction, his legal team came under increasing pressure. Kudratov was arrested in July 2014 on fraud charges and sentenced in January 2015 to nine years in prison. Zokirov had been detained in March 2014 by anticorruption authorities and released in November 2014 after declaring publicly that he would no longer be representing Saidov. Zokirov was arrested again in August 2015 and released in November after paying a large fine.
Tajikistan’s crusade against lawyers–specifically those willing to take on politically sensitive cases–has drawn condemnation from rights groups, countries, and international bodies. During Tajikistan’s Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in May Ambassador Keith Harper, the U.S.representative to the HRC, specifically urged the Tajik government to “provide human rights defenders, including defense attorneys and political figures detained as a result of their peaceful activities, such as Burzurgmehr Yorov , Shuhrat Qudratov, and Ishoq Tabarov and his sons, with fair, open, and transparent trials, including the substantive protections and procedural guarantees in accordance with Tajikistan’s international obligations.”
Yorov, one of the lawyers mentioned by Harper, served as counsel for some of the IRPT leaders whose trial recently ended. Two of the party’s top leaders were given life sentences after closed trials, with the other 11 sentenced to terms between 14 and 28 years and the only woman on trial, Zarafo Rahmoni, given two years. Yorov was arrested in 2015, shortly after taking up the IRPT case.