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26-Year-Old Uzbek Budding Human Rights Lawyer Granted Asylum Thanks to Holland & Knight LLP

Saturday, May 09, 2009

  • By: Christopher Nugent
  • Organization: Holland & Knight LLP
  • Source: National

On March 30, 2009, a 26-year-old Uzbek human rights lawyer Jan* was granted asylum by the Honorable Immigration Judge Elizabeth A. Kessler in Arlington, VA after several hours of testimony and more than 1000 pages of evidence including over 20 lay and expert witness affidavits.

Jan has been actively involved in the defense work of Sanjar Umarov, opposition leader and Uzbek-American entrepreneur. Jan worked closely with Sanjar Umarov's lawyer, Vitaly Krasilovsky, in Tashkent, Uzbekistan during the initial detention and trial of Sanjar Umarov, which put Jan's liberty and safety at a great risk at the hands of the Uzbek Government. Jan did not cease his efforts to free Sanjar Umarov even after arriving in the United States, bringing the issue to the attention of the U.S. Helsinki Commission and making a public presentation at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. together with Sanjar Umarov's son Gulam Umarov on human rights issues in Uzbekistan.

Having graduated from law school in Uzbekistan, Jan worked to further rule of law in Uzbekistan and was targeted for incarceration for treason under the Uzbek law by the Uzbek National Security Service (NSS) to crush his human rights advocacy. Jan regularly monitored criminal trials, particularly those involving capital punishment, in order to ensure that the court and prosecutors followed proper criminal procedure.

On May 13, 2005, Uzbek government forces killed hundreds of unarmed people who participated in a massive public protest in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan. The scale of this killing was so extensive, and its nature so indiscriminate and disproportionate, that it can best be described as a massacre.

Later that year, Jan monitored the Andijan trials, which involved the government's false labeling of many peaceful protesters as "terrorists." Jan observed that the procedural rights of the detainees were routinely violated. All defense counsel were government-appointed "pocket advocates" who failed to question any witnesses or defendants. Jan subsequently was interrogated by an NSS agent about his human rights work with American lawyers prior to his departure to the United States, having been awarded a United States Department of State's prestigious fellowship to pursue an LLM degree at a law school in the United States.

Jon contacted Holland & Knight LLP in January 2009 to request pro bono representation given his indigence. Thanks to the zealous advocacy of Christopher Nugent, Senior Pro Bono Counsel, along with the help of Washington College of Law externs Patricia Thomas and Rukayya Furo, Jan now has permanent freedom and safety in the United States to continue his activism for positive change in his country from the United States. Both the Department of Homeland Security and the Immigration Judge commended the team for how thoroughly corroborated Jam's application was with extrinsic evidence.

"Even as a trained lawyer, given the nuances of United States asylum law, it would have been virtually impossible for me to succeed in my claim without the expert assistance of Holland & Knight. I rightfully owe my life and freedom to my talented team of advocates," said Jan. "Rakmat!" (Uzbeki for Thank you).

*Pseudonym used to protect client's identity

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