DUSHANBE -- The head of an opposition party in Tajikistan has openly challenged the imprisonment of a human rights lawyer and an opposition businessman, a rare move in the tightly controlled Central Asian nation.
Social Democratic Party leader Rahmatillo Zoirov urged the Supreme Court on Facebook on March 21 to review the cases of lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov and businessman Zaid Saidov, calling the prosecution of the two men politically motivated.
Zoirov, who is also a lawyer, told RFE/RL on March 22 that Saidov had not been provided with the means and conditions to defend himself.
Saidov, a businessman and leader of the unregistered opposition party New Tajikistan, was sentenced to 26 years in prison in December 2013 after being convicted of financial fraud, polygamy, and sexual relations with a minor.
He also contends that the charges and trial were politically motivated.
Yorov was sentenced to 23 years in prison in October, after the Dushanbe City Court convicted him of issuing public calls for the overthrow of the government and inciting unrest.
Zoirov said he believes that Yorov was prosecuted only because he defended 13 members and leaders of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, which President Emomali Rahmon's government labeled a terrorist organization and outlawed in 2015.
On March 15, the Supreme Court sentenced Yorov to an additional two years behind bars after finding him guilty of contempt of court and insulting a government official.
Yorov denies any wrongdoing, saying that his imprisonment is politically motivated.
Although Zoirov's party is officially registered, it has no seats in the parliament.
Rahmon, 64, has ruled the poor, predominantly Muslim former Soviet republic since 1992.
Rights groups and opponents say he tolerates little dissent and suppresses his critics.
In December 2015, a bill was endorsed in Tajikistan that gave Rahmon the title "Leader of the Nation" and granted him and his relatives lifelong immunity from prosecution.
In January 2016, constitutional amendments were adopted giving Rahmon a right to run for reelection for an indefinite number of times.