Tajik human rights lawyer Shuhrat Qudratov has been released.  He has spent four years in Dushanbe-based penal colony # 3/4.

Shuhrat Qudratov’s relatives say he was released on August 24.  “Shuhrat is feeling good but he still has no desire to talk to journalists,” said Shuhrat’s relative.  

Shuhrat Qudratov has been known for taking on politically sensitive cases, such as representing the news agency Asia-Plus, which government officials have frequently sued for defamation.  He also defended Zayd Saidov, a former cabinet minister who was sentenced to 26 years in prison in 2013 on charges that included corruption and rape.

Shuhrat Qudratov himself was arrested in July 2014 when it was alleged that he had attempted to bribe a judge in a civil case and that he defrauded a former client of several thousand dollars.

On January 13, 2015, Shuhrat Qudratov was sentenced to nine years in jail, which was later reduced on appeal to three years and eight months.

From the moment of his arrest Qudratov has denied the allegations.  He has called the charges retribution for his long record of taking on politically sensitive cases and for being a leading member of the opposition party (Shuhrat Qudratov was deputy head of the Social-Democratic Party of Tajikistan).

Recall, Amnesty International noted in May 2017 that Tajik authorities have launched an “unrelenting assault” against lawyers, particularly those who took up the defense of government critics.

In a report released on May 24, 2017 a rights watchdog said lawyers in Tajikistan are confronted with significant obstacles in the exercise of their professional duty as the country is increasingly turning its back on human rights and the rule of law.

The report -- In the Line of Duty: Harassment, Prosecution and Imprisonment of Lawyers in Tajikistan -- comes ahead of the country's Professional Day of the Lawyer on May 26.

The rights group called on the Tajik government “to free those lawyers currently being held behind bars after being convicted in unfair trials and to urgently review the legislation that has caused the disbarment of more than half of their profession in the past two years.”

It also urged the Tajik authorities to respect human rights, including those of lawyers, saying “all lawyers in Tajikistan must be able to perform their professional duties without hindrance and fear of reprisals.”

It is to be noted that Tajikistan in 2015 adopted amendments to the law regulating licensing requirements for lawyers.  The amendments obligate lawyers to renew their license with the Justice Ministry on a five-yearly basis.  The law automatically denies a legal license to anybody with a criminal conviction, so in the best-case scenario, lawyers that fall of maliciously instigated legal proceedings will in any case be unable to continue practicing, even if they are released.

According to some sources, the number of licensed lawyers in Tajikistan fell by more than half -- from 1,200 in 2015 to just 600 in 2017.