2014 Santos on Tajik lawyer sentencingOSCE PA human rights Chair Isabel Santos COPENHAGEN, 23 January 2015 – The Chair of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions, Isabel Santos (MP, Portugal), today expressed concern about the sentencing of prominent Tajikistani lawyer and opposition figure Shukhrat Kudratov and the state of civil and political liberties in the country.

She also noted the new charges brought against Zayd Saidov, the leader of an unregistered political party.

"On the eve of parliamentary elections, at a time when Tajikistan should be engaged in an open debate on what's best for the country, these legal measures cast doubt on political freedom, judicial independence and rule of law," Santos said.

Kudratov is known for taking on politically sensitive cases, including defending one of Tajikistan's leading news agencies, Asia-Plus, against defamation charges. He also functions as the deputy head of the opposition Social Democratic Party. He was arrested in July 2014 on charges of bribery and fraud and was sentenced on 13 January 2015 to nine years in prison. He will also be prohibited from exercising his professional activity for two years after his release.

Kudratov has also represented Saidov, a former Minister of Industry and founder of the unregistered New Tajikistan Party, who was sentenced to 26 years in prison in December 2013. Saidov now faces new charges, including abuse of office, embezzlement and tax evasion.

"These apparent attempts to silence rights-defenders and critics must stop. In building a viable democratic state, political activists, lawyers and civil society must be allowed to do their work without fear of harassment or prosecution. The OSCE PA will continue to closely monitor these and related cases in Tajikistan," Santos said.

Santos also referred to several clauses in the OSCE PA's Baku Declaration, the final document approved by parliamentarians from across the OSCE area at the Assembly's 2014 Annual Session: 

The Declaration "reiterates its call on all the OSCE participating States to comply fully with their commitments regarding human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law" and reaffirms that "rule of law and the independence of the judiciary should be respected."

The Baku Declaration also "expresses concern at the misuse of administrative procedures and legislation to detain, imprison, intimidate or otherwise silence human rights defenders and critics in numerous OSCE participating States."

Citing growing pressure on its leadership, the Social Democratic Party has announced that it no longer intends to contest Tajikistan's 1 March parliamentary elections. Santos noted the decision, while stressing the importance of engagement in the political process.

The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly plans to monitor the upcoming vote. Further information on the observation mission is forthcoming.