Uzbek dissident and writer Mohammed Solih remains in a Czech jail as Uzbekistan's government assembles documentation for an extradition request based on a terrorism conviction. Solih has repeatedly denied his involvement in any terrorist activity, and has condemned Uzbek President Islam Karimov's crackdown on human rights.
Solih has lived in exile since 1992, when the party that he leads, Erk, was banned. At the time of his November 28 arrest, he was traveling to Prague to speak at the invitation of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. His detention has stirred rights advocates in Uzbekistan and elsewhere.
On November 30, Hazratqul Khudojberdi of the Uzbek pro-democracy Birlik movement circulated an open letter to Czech president Vaclav Havel urging the Czech courts against extradition. Khudojberdi swore that Solih "would be in grave danger of torture and cruel and inhuman treatment" upon his return to Uzbekistan.
A Czech judge on November 30 ordered Solih held for 40 days in order to provide Uzbekistan with time to present evidence that would support his return to Tashkent. The Erk party, which he heads in absentia, reported on December 3 that he intends to apply for Czech asylum. He has asylum in Oslo, and the Norwegian government appealed for his release on December 3.
Solih was convicted by the Uzbek government of conspiring to assassinate Karimov in 1999. Solih has always categorically denied the charges, which triggered a period of intense crackdowns on free speech in Uzbekistan. A Human Rights Watch observer at the trial said it was conducted in a Soviet-style atmosphere, in which Solih's guilt was predetermined.
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan reportedly supports the idea of releasing Solih, but Rachel Denber of Human Rights Watch says such sympathy will not necessarily protect the Uzbek opposition leader.
"We want the government of Norway and the government of the United States to say that he should be released and not extradited," Denber told EurasiaNet. Denber declined to speculate on what would happen next. She did note that Solih stood a better chance of airing his grievances in the Czech system, under which extradition requests receive hearings. In Russia, extradition requests are an administrative matter.
While the Uzbek government assembles its case, it may draw on its current alliance with the United States. Uzbekistan has become a key ally in the American campaign in Afghanistan, providing a crucial bridge for American and allied soldiers into the Afghan capital. The United States has not made a formal statement regarding Solih.
But rights advocates around the world, using email campaigns like Khudojberdi's, may continue filling any silence from American diplomats. In his open letter to Havel, Khudojberdi invoked the Czech Republic's multilateral commitments to UN conventions- implying that a conviction of Solih on antiterrorist grounds would not wash. "He is never involved in undemocratic action, he hates terror and always fights against government's violence and terror against citizens," the letter said.
Alec Appelbaum is a contributing editor to EurasiaNet.
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