Prosecutors in Tajikistan have called for lengthy prison sentences for two human rights lawyers in the Central Asian country, the latest in the series of government moves that have drawn international condemnation.
Prosecutor Rustam Takdirzoda accused the lawyers -- Buzurgmehr Yorovand Nuriddin Mahkamov -- of inciting ethnic enmity, among other charges, and asked a Dushanbe court to sentence them to 25 and 23 years in prison, respectively.
"How is it possible that two well-known lawyers have been turned into two extremists?" their defense counsel, Muazzama Kodirova, told RFE/RL’s Tajik Service.
The charges appear to stem from Yorov’s legal work for 13 members and leaders of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikstan (HNIT). The party was once a significant player in Tajik politics, born out of an agreement reached to end civil war in the 1990s.
But the party was declared an extremist organization last year, under President Emomali Rahmon, and outlawed, as Rahmon’s government has moved to tighten control over civil society and impose new restrictions on independent religious groups.
Dozens of party members have been arrested.
Yorov and Mahkamov are among at least five right lawyers who have been targeted by authorities for their legal work, prompting Human Rights Watch and others groups to call for their immediate and unconditional release.
Earlier this month, HNIT leader Muhiddin Kabiri was added to Interpol’s wanted list at Dushanbe's request.