A state prosecutor in Tajikistan has reportedly asked the courts to extend the sentence of Buzurgmehr Yorov, a lawyer convicted last year, again — this time by 17 years for additional fraud and insulting the leader of the nation.
According to Asia-Plus, because of a legal restriction on how long a defendant can be sentenced — 30 years — if the new case results in a conviction, Yorov would get at most 5 more years.
Yorov was arrested in September 2015. Tajik authorities accused Yorov and another lawyer, Nuriddin Mahkamov, of fraud and forgery, and then heaped on additional crimes: inciting ethnic enmity, calling for the otherthrow of the government, support of extremist activity.
The state’’s critics pointed out that the lawyers’ real crime was agreeing to represent the leadership of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT), who had been arrested in a broad sweep in September 2015. The IRPT leadership were sentenced to long prison terms — two to life — and so were their lawyers. In October 2016, Yorov was handed a 23-year sentence.
A few months later, prosecutors asked to extend his term because of his reading of an 11th century poem in court during his first trial. He was charged with contempt of court and insulting a government official. Farangis Najibullah, of RFE/RL, explained the incident:
As he sat in the dock during a court hearing in October, Yorov read out a stanza from a classic poem by the Persian poet Omar Khayyam.
The passage goes something like this:
With these ignorant few who foolishly
Consider themselves the intelligent ones of the world
Should be donkeys, because they are so deep in donkeyness
That they call “blasphemous” whomever is not a donkey
Eyewitnesses who were present in the Dushanbe courtroom say the reading led to a heated exchange between the defendant and the prosecutor.
Yorov was convicted and two more years added to his sentence.
The new charges, per Asia-Plus, are fraud and insulting the leader of the nation and there’s no reason to believe there won’t be a conviction. The trial will be behind closed-doors.
Yorov isn’t alone. As I’ve discussed previously, and unfortunately will have to keep discussing, Dushanbe has made serious efforts to punish not only its political opponents (in the form of the IRPT and Group 24, most prominently) but their defenders and the relatives of anyone involved. The long-term impact of this will be a further deepening of the already prevailing common wisdom: keep your mouth shut and keep to yourself.
Tajik authorities have levied charges against Yorov’s brother and sister, Jamshed and Hosiyat, as well as his lawyer, Muazzama Qodirova, who fled the country earlier this year and is seeking asylum in Europe.
A report from Amnesty International, released earlier this year, explained the plight of Tajikistan’s lawyers and levied a host of recommendations for the Tajik authories and the country’s international partners. For Dushanbe the request sounds simple but seems impossible, given Dushanbe’;s track record: “Fully respect and protect the human rights of lawyers…”
It’s unclear if the recommendation to Tajikistan’s international partners — that they raise the issue of jailed lawyers in bilateral meetings — is actually happening. But if it is, it has yielded no positive effects to date.