(Bishkek) – A court in Tajikistan on October 6, 2016, sentenced two prominent human rights lawyers to long prison terms, Human Rights Watch, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and Association for Human Rights in Central Asia said today. The convictions of Buzurgmehr Yorov and Nuriddin Makhkamov following a politically motivated trial, and harsh sentences of 23 years for Makhkamov and 21 for Yorov, strike a blow to freedom of expression and the independence of the legal profession in Tajikistan. The lawyers should be immediately released and authorities should ensure the independence of Tajikistan’s legal profession. Yorov’s and Makhkamov’s sentences are the latest developments in an unprecedented crackdown on dissent in the country, including on the legal profession. Authorities have arrested, imprisoned, and intimidated numerous attorneys since 2014, in retaliation for representing political opponents or their willingness to take on politically sensitive cases. Other prominent human rights lawyers have received death threats and been threatened with trumped up charges.
“With this prosecution, Tajik authorities are attempting to silence two of the most active and independent voices of Tajikistan’s legal profession,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Yorov’s and Makhkamov’s sentences strike directly at the independence of the legal profession in the country.”