Tajikistan has sent an award-winning human rights lawyer to prison on charges his supporters say are meant as a warning to critics of the authoritarian regime.
A court in Dushanbe sentenced Shukhrat Kudratov to nine years in a penal colony for bribery and fraud on January 13, Asia-Plus reported.
Kudratov’s real crime, it appears, was defending opposition activist Zaid Saidov in 2013. That year, Saidov, a local businessman and former official, was swiftly arrested after starting a political party and charged with, among other things, polygamy. He received 26 years in prison. The politician’s supporters said they had received death threats.
Last year, another one of Saidov’s lawyers, Fakhriddin Zokirov, was arrested on forgery charges. He was released after eight months and promised he would no longer defend Saidov.
The cases against the lawyers are widely seen as politically motivated. Steve Swerdlow of Human Rights Watch called Kudratov's jailing "a serious setback for the freedom of expression and the independent legal profession in Tajikistan."
After Kudratov, who is also a member of the opposition Social Democratic Party, was arrested last July, Dublin-based Frontline Defenders said he “is one of few lawyers in Tajikistan who defends opposition activists, victims of police torture, and those accused of ‘religious extremism.’”
Dushanbe-based Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law named Kudratov their human rights defender of the year in 2011.
Tajikistan’s opaque justice system is notorious for harassing regime critics and the few whistleblowers that have not been terrified into submission.