Crossroads Asia

Tajik Authorities Seek Long Prison Terms for IRPT Lawyers

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Crossroads Asia

Tajik Authorities Seek Long Prison Terms for IRPT Lawyers

Meanwhile, in Geneva Tajikistan’s human rights record will be up for discussion.

Tajik Authorities Seek Long Prison Terms for IRPT Lawyers
Credit: Nicholas Raymond

A year after Tajikistan’s concentrated campaign to close down the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT) came to a head with the arrest of the party’s leadership, Tajik prosecutors have called for lengthy jail terms for two of the party’s lawyers arrested shortly after their clients last fall.

Tajik prosecutor Rustam Takdirzoda asked a Dushanbe court to sentence Buzurgmehr Yorov and Nuriddin Mahkamov to 25 and 23 years, respectively, for inciting ethnic enmity, calling for the otherthrow of the government, support of extremist activity, fraud and forgery, Yorov was arrested on September 29 last year and Mahkamov, who worked for Yorov’s law firm, was arrested a month later. Their trial was labeled secret and the proceedings kept closed.

Yorov’s brother, Jamshed (also a lawyer who represented one of the IRPT leaders in their trial) was arrested in late August, accused by the state of “divulging state secrets.” According to a source in the security services, reported by Reuters, he was following the publishing of “the full text of the verdict against the leaders of the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT).”

The 13 IRPT leaders were tried earlier this year and sentenced to long terms, most in excess of 20 years. One of those 13, Hikmatullo Sayfullozoda, was said to be in poor health in August. In recent weeks, two other party members died in prison.

Buzurgmehr Yorov and Nuriddin Mahkamov’s defense counsel, Muazzama Kodirova told RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, “How is it possible that two well-known lawyers have been turned into two extremists?”

Given that the lawyers’ trial is closed, we have no idea what kind of “evidence” has been presented. And as their arrest (and that of the second Yorov) demonstrates, discussing the details of such trials could land a person in jail on extremism charges. Given the precedent, it’s reasonable to expect that both lawyers will be convicted and sentenced as requested.

Meanwhile, on the international stage Tajikistan defends its human rights record. This week, the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva will consider and adopt the final outcomes of the spring round of universal periodic reviews (UPRs) in which member states have their human rights records assessed.

Tajikistan’s review didn’t go well, to say the least, with several countries bringing up the issue of imprisoned lawyers and political prisoners. Norway in particular took up the cause, stating its recommendation in the working group report last May that Tajikistan “Immediately and unconditionally release prisoners arrested on politically motivated charges, including members of the Islamic Renaissance party of Tajikistan, Group 24 and their lawyers.”

Ahead of a scheduled September 22 discussion of Dushanbe’s record, Tajikistan preemptively pushed back. According to RFE/RL, Tajikistan said there was no “political motive” in the mentioned cases against oppositing politicians, activists and lawyers. Tajikistan also rejected a recommendation to better media freedoms in the country, noting that Dushanbe had created “all necessary conditions” for a free press.

Thursday’s review of Tajikistan human rights record is unlikely to tread new ground, but the international community has yet another chance to call out Tajikistan on its deplorable rights record. Tajikistan has, for some time, successfully linked even the gentlest opposition to radicalism and thus dampened Western spirits to rush to the defense of “Islamists.”

Not all international bodies seem aware of Tajikistan’s ploy. Interpol recently added Muhiddin Kabiri, the head of the IRPT, to its watch list. Kabiri has been in exile since early 2015 and has long argued that the state’s repression will spark the very radicalism the state fears.