Uzbek Dissident Arrested in Prague, Faces Extradition to Uzbekistan
Acting on a warrant issued by Interpol, authorities in the Czech Republic have detained one of Uzbekistan's leading political opposition figures, Mohammed Solih. A court hearing is scheduled for November 30 to determine whether Solih will be extradited to Uzbekistan.
Czech police arrested Solih on November 28 as soon as he passed through passport control at Prague Airport. He was visiting the Czech Republic at the invitation of the US-sponsored Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty. An associate of Solih's Czech defense lawyer, Miroslava Kohoutova, told EurasiaNet in a telephone interview that the Uzbek government was responsible for the Interpol arrest warrant.
Human Rights Watch, in a statement, called for the immediate release of Solih, who is chairman of the Erk Democratic Party. "This is a matter of life and death for Mr. Solih," said Elizabeth Andersen, the executive director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia Division.
Solih was convicted in abstentia on terrorism-related charges on November 17, 2000, receiving a 15-year prison sentence. He has vigorously denied any connection to terrorist organizations and characterized the verdict as illegal. "We do not expect any justice from this government [of Uzbek President Islam Karimov]," Solih told Iranian radio at the time of his conviction.
Solih's trial was connected to a 1999 series of bombings in the Uzbek capital Tashkent. The Uzbek government has portrayed the bombings as an assassination attempt against Karimov, organized by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). IMU leaders Juma Namangani and Tahir Yuldashev were sentenced to death in abstentia at the same November 2000 trial. Namangani was recently reported killed in fighting in Afghanistan.
Solih was the only challenger to Karimov during Uzbekistan's 1991 presidential election. Erk was banned in 1992, and Solih went into exile. Since fleeing Uzbekistan, Solih has lived in Norway, Turkey and Germany, while continuing to denounce Karimov's administration. "I can only say that Karimov is not in an enviable position because, among Central Asian nations, Uzbekistan is in the worst position [in terms of economic development]," Solih said during a January 2001 interview broadcast by Iranian radio. "I am surprised that people