Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Tajik Authorities Target Opponents' Lawyers

After opposition members, those who dare to defend them find themselves facing trial.
By Rajab Mirzo
  •  Lawyer Fahriddin Zokirov. (Photo: Nilufar Karimova)
    Lawyer Fahriddin Zokirov. (Photo: Nilufar Karimova)
  • The three defence lawyers for Zayd Saidov: (right to left) Fahriddin Zokirov, Shuhrat Qudratov and Ishok Tabarov. (Photo: Nilufar Karimova)
    The three defence lawyers for Zayd Saidov: (right to left) Fahriddin Zokirov, Shuhrat Qudratov and Ishok Tabarov. (Photo: Nilufar Karimova)
  • Zayd Saidov. (Photo: Elita magazine)
    Zayd Saidov. (Photo: Elita magazine)

The arrest of a lawyer who defended an opposition leader in Tajikistan sets a dangerous precedent, human rights activists say.

Fahriddin Zokirov is one of three lawyers who represented businessman-turned-politician Zayd Saidov, jailed in December. (See Tajik Opposition Figure Gets 26 Years.)  Arrested on March 7, Zokirov is accused of failing to repay a bank loan. He has hired a lawyer, Buzurgmehr Yorov, who denies that his client evaded repayments and has already paid back more than half the loan sum.

The case against Zokirov was brought by the State Agency for Financial Control and Tackling Corruption, the same body that launched criminal proceedings against his client Saidov last year, soon after he launched a new political party. Saidov maintained his innocence throughout.

Shuhrat Qudratov, who alongside Zokirov also represented Saidov, says the legal profession is becoming a “dangerous occupation” because of the way the authorities control court cases against their critics.

“Almost all [such] criminal proceedings are held behind closed doors. In a situation like that, the lawyer becomes the only source of information for the public outside,” Qudratov said.

He said the authorities tried to intimidate lawyers into silence and prevent them talking to the media. In the Saidov case, he said, he and his colleagues had been under pressure for some time, but Zokirov’s detention coincided with the anti-corruption agency seizing Saidov’s assets. Qudratov believes the authorities singled out Zokirov because he had information that could prove that Saidov owned his assets legally and could have blocked the confiscation process.

“They just wanted to knock him out of the case as someone who knows a lot,” Qudratov said.

Qudratov said things got worse after the legal team brought a defamation lawsuit against the anti-corruption agency, whose head made a statement in February accusing them of faking evidence.

Leading rights activist Oinikhol Bobonazarova expressed concern over what she sees as government repression being extended to legal professionals who represent political opponents.

She said the case, the first of its kind, meant that lawyers were joining journalists and human rights defenders as a persecuted group.

The Legal Consortium of Tajikistan, a professional body, accused the authorities of “waging war against lawyers”. Its head, Rahmatillo Zoirov, who is also leader of the opposition Social Democratic party, argued that Zokirov’s arrest was “pre-planned” on the orders of senior officials.

The Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists spoke of a “threat to the independence of the profession”.

In a statement, it said “lawyers must not be identified with their clients’ causes”.

Rajab Mirzo is an independent journalist in Tajikistan.


This article was produced under two IWPR projects:Empowering Media and Civil Society Activists to Support Democratic Reforms in Tajikistan, funded by the European Union; and theHuman Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme,funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway.The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Norwegian foreign ministry.