DUSHANBE, Tajikistan: Two international rights groups have condemned the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan over its jailing of independent lawyers defending the battered opposition in the Central Asian state.
Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee called for the release of at least four human rights lawyers imprisoned as part of a crackdown on dissenters, as well as two children of another lawyer.
“The lawyers languishing behind bars are some of Tajikistan’s most active and independent voices,” said Marius Fossum, Norwegian Helsinki Committee’s regional representative in Central Asia said Wednesday. “[Tajikistan] has presented no credible evidence against any of them and so should release them immediately and guarantee them the security to fully carry out their professional duties.”
The lawyers were targeted for defending members of the moderate Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, which the government has banned, as well as a former industry minister and fellow lawyers.
Prominent advocate Buzurgmehr Yorov was arrested on fraud and extremism charges in 2015 while acting as counsel for another lawyer imprisoned for defending a prominent opposition politician the previous year.
His client Fakhriddin Zokirov was released under an amnesty deal last November and promptly ceased representing ex-industry minister Zaid Saidov, who had three years added to a 26-year prison sentence for economic crimes in 2015.
Two sons of another lawyer representing Saidov, who founded the New Tajikistan opposition party in 2013, have also been caught up in the crackdown.
One son was jailed on charges of extremism and recruiting mercenary fighters, while the other has reportedly been detained for failing to report a crime.
The US State Department last month labeled Tajikistan a “country of particular concern” over the growing crackdown on Islam in the majority-Muslim country.
The secular government’s heavy-handed approach to the religion has included restrictions on the sale of Islamic clothing and Arabic names as well as reports of forced beard shavings.
But Washington has refused to apply sanctions to the country of eight million people bordering Afghanistan, citing “important national interests.”