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Uzbekistan: Intelligentsia Make Plea For Opposition Leader’s Return

450 writers, scientists and teachers appealed to the president to let Muhammad Solih end his 25-year exile.

More than 400 representatives of Uzbekistan’s self-described intelligentsia have signed an online petition for the president to allow veteran opposition figure Muhammad Solih to return home after 25 years in exile.

Many of the supporters of the appeal, which was originally posted on February 9 on the Facebook account of writer Nurulloh Мuhammad Raufxon, are based inside Uzbekistan and signed under their own names. Such open gestures of support for a figure intensely despised by the authorities would have been inconceivable under the late President Islam Karimov. 

Among the more notable signatories are the author Shukrullo Yusupov, the poets Djamol Kamol and Halima Xudoyberdieva, and playwright Sharof Boshbekov.

“We are representatives of the creative intelligentsia and we support the economic, social and spiritual reforms being undertaken by you [President Shavkat] Mirziyoyev. We very much wish that you might adopt a decision about Muhammad Solih, who has spent 25 years away from his homeland. First and foremost, he is a writer, and then a politician. We ask to to allow the 70-year old poet Muhammad Solih to return to his homeland. Our literature and our people will benefit from this,” reads the appeal, which was written in Uzbek.

As of February 15, there were 450 signatories to the petition. In addition to artists and journalists, many of them living in countries like Turkey, Russia, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom, backers of the appeal included scientists and teachers.

Solih was the secretary of the Uzbekistan Writer’s Union at the turn of the 1990s. While in the position, he set up the Birlik (Unity) movement, which espoused nationalist Uzbek views. Later, he went on to found the Erk (Freedom) Democratic Party. In December 1991, Solih was the only person to make a presidential election run against Karimov, who would go on to lead the country for another quarter century. There were some muted protest rallies on a university campus against the outcome of the vote, but Solih’s fate was largely sealed. Before long, he was forced to quit politics and flee the country. He has lived in Turkey since 1992 and been the driving force behind the People’s Movement of Uzbekistan, an umbrella movement of opponents to the Tashkent regime.

If some in Uzbekistan have suddenly, after decades of silence, rallied to Solih’s support, there will be others less eager to see him so warmly lauded. He blotted his copybook badly in October by appearing to throw jailed reporter Bobomurod Abdullayev under the bus. Speaking at a bewildering press conference in Istanbul, he purported to reveal that Abdullayev was — as the his jailers in the National Security Service were then maintaining — the mind behind a pseudonymous columnist responsible for writing multiple scurrilous, rumor-mongering pieces about the Uzbek government over the years. Even if there were any truth to claim, it is unclear why Solih would have felt the need to make a public statement that could only have the effect of placing Abdullayev in severe danger. His detractors suggested at the time that he was trying to curry favor with the authorities as a way of negotiating his return to Uzbekistan.

Following the appearance of the petition, Solih has also come in for criticism from media in Uzbekistan. News website Vesti.uz ran an article titled “Does Uzbekistan Need Muhammad Solih?” in which the opposition politician was described as the leader of a virulently nationalistic and anti-Russian movement.

"We should not forget that having been the foreign-based leader of the so-called People's Movement of Uzbekistan, whose membership could easily fit in a rural teahouse, Solih openly called for the overthrow of the government in his homeland and he has made no secret of his radical views. Has age really changed the man?” the article read.

Uzbekistan: Intelligentsia Make Plea For Opposition Leader’s Return

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