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Sunday 9 June 2019

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Interim Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev speaks to supporters in Nur-Sultan on June 7.

On June 9, Kazakhstan will conduct its first presidential election in which Nursultan Nazarbaev will not be a candidate.

When the only president Kazakhstan has ever known announced his retirement on March 19, the plan for moving longtime government official and Nazarbaev ally Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev into the presidency was implemented.

It was supposed to be a smooth transition of power from Nazarbaev to his chosen successor. But some people in Kazakhstan objected to this handover of presidency, since it seemed to have all been decided without the people of the country having any say.

There have been a series of peaceful protests and actions against this managed succession of power, which has clearly taken authorities by surprise and cast an unwelcome spotlight on Kazakhstan ahead of its first change of presidents.

On this week's Majlis podcast, RFE/RL's media-relations manager, Muhammad Tahir, moderates a discussion on the unexpected twists and turns of Kazakhstan’s presidential campaign and the possibility that there is more to come after the election.

Participating from Almaty was Assem Zhapisheva, a journalist and a youth activist with the newly formed group Oyan Kazakhstan (Wake Up Kazakhstan).

Also from Almaty, Joanna Lillis, the veteran Central Asia reporter for Eurasianet and author of the recently released (and already in its second printing) book Dark Shadows Inside The Secret World Of Kazakhstan, joined the discussion.

I was raring to go on this topic, so I had something to say also.

Majlis Podcast: Kazakhstan’s Planned Presidential Succession Goes Off Script
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Listen to the podcast above or subscribe to the Majlis on iTunes.

Buzurgmehr Yorov was one of the very few lawyers in Tajikistan willing to defend people the government considered opponents.

A UN agency is calling on authorities in Tajikistan to free lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov from prison, saying Yorov's rights have been consistently violated since the moment of his detention.

Yorov was one of the very few lawyers in Tajikistan willing to defend people the Tajik government considered opponents. Yorov was also a vocal critic of rights abuses.

In September 2015, Yorov agreed to represent 13 high-ranking members of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT). The IRPT had been represented in the Tajik government until March of that year, when it lost its last two seats in parliament. By late August, a Tajik court had banned the party; then, in September, following an armed conflict between government forces and a group loyal to the country's deputy defense minister, a Tajik court declared the IRPT an extremist group and arrested the members of the party's leadership who were still in the country. The authorities never publicly offered compelling evidence to substantiate accusations of links between the mutinous deputy defense minister and the IRPT.

On September 26, 2015, Yorov met with one of his clients. Two days later, he made a public statement saying his client was being tortured. Later that same day, Yorov was taken into custody. On October 6, 2016, a court in Tajikistan found Yorov and fellow human rights lawyer Nuriddin Makhamov guilty of fraud, swindling, arousing national, racial, local, or religious hostility, and extremism, and gave them long prison sentences.

Yorov was put on trial two more times with additional time added to his sentence, eventually totaling 28 years.

The Washington-based organization Freedom Now released a statement on June 3 noting that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had found Tajikistan's actions against Yorov to be in violation of international law. Freedom Now quoted Judith Lichtenberg, the executive director of the NGO Lawyers for Lawyers, as saying, "Over the past five years we have seen a full-scale assault on the legal community, which has resulted in the imprisonment or self-imposed exile of several of the country's leading lawyers."

Lawyers for Lawyers, Freedom Now, and the law firms Hogan Lovells US LLP and DLA Piper UK LLP filed the legal petition for Yorov with the United Nations.

The UN Working Group issued its 17-page opinion on May 24.

Paragraph 111 hints at the Working Group's conclusions:

"The deprivation of liberty of Buzurgmehr Yorov, being in contravention of articles 2, 3, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 19, 20 and 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and articles 2 (1), 9 (1), (2), (3) and (4), article 14 (1), (2), (3) (b), (d), (e) and (g) and (5), articles 15, 19, 21, 25 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is arbitrary and falls within categories I, II, III and V."

The Working Group added, "[A]n appropriate remedy would be to release Mr. Yorov immediately and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and reparations, in accordance with international law."

The Working Group called upon Tajikistan's government to provide within six months information on whether Yorov had been released, compensation made, and an investigation begun into violations of Yorov's rights.

Tajikistan has already shrugged off similar requests from UN rights bodies. Even in this latest statement, the Working Group noted that "on 15 November 2018 the Working Group transmitted to the Government of Tajikistan a communication concerning Mr. Buzurgmehr Yorov." The Working Group called for a response from Tajik authorities by January 14, 2019, but "The Government submitted a late response on 18 January."

Tajik authorities have previously told the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that cases like Yorov's are an internal affair and Tajikistan's government is therefore not required to implement international recommendations.

A look at the statement from Freedom Now, the opinion of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, or this report from RFE/RL's Tajik Service, known locally as Ozodi, suggests the absurdity of the Yorov case.

It was not only Yorov who suffered. His entire family endured privations after he was detained. His brother Jamshed was also detained for several months and eventually fled Tajikistan. His sister fled the country. His wife and three children remain in Tajikistan but reportedly have a very hard life. His father became depressed and died in 2017.

Yorov's case is just one example of what appears to be a wider process under way in Tajikistan during the last four years, which led the Norwegian Helsinki Committee to release its report Tajikistan In Deep Human Rights Crisis on June 5.

RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report. The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL

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About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Bruce Pannier
Bruce Pannier

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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