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Their last stand? How human rights defenders are being squeezed out in Tajikistan

As the UN Human Rights Committee prepares to scrutinize the human rights situation in Tajikistan, a report by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (an OMCT-FIDH partnership) highlights how the regime of President Rahmon gradually eroded the freedom of association and expression of its critics, including human rights defenders and lawyers.

The report titled Their last stand? How human rights defenders are being squeezed out in Tajikistan, published on 1 July 2019 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, outlines how the authorities have increasingly restricted the legal space for human rights organisations and independent lawyers to provide assistance to victims of human rights violations, including torture.

The report finds that amendments to, among others, the Law on Public Associations – allegedly introduced to combat money laundering, terrorism and financing of terrorism – severely restricted the ability of human rights defenders and others to set up and run civil society organisations without undue interference. At the same time various official bodies were handed tremendous powers to conduct frequent and intrusive inspections of NGOs.

Furthermore, the authorities bear responsibility for causing an acute shortage of lawyers in the country, with grave implications for the right of access to a lawyer of one’s choice and other fundamental human rights. New legislation sets unreasonably high admission criteria for the bar and mandates a body presided by a Deputy Minister of Justice with testing and periodically re-testing all lawyers, giving the executive authority additional grounds for exclusion of lawyers from the bar on an arbitrary basis.

Finally, journalists and lawyers have been criminally prosecuted for defending victims, including the 28 years jail sentence for prominent human rights lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov.

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