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Uzbek poet and politician Mohammad Solih -- head of the banned Erk ("Freedom") party and President Karimov's challenger in the 1991 elections -- was arrested in Prague on 28 November on an Interpol warrant issued by Uzbekistan, and remains in custody pending the arrival of documentation demanding his extradition. Solih fled Uzbekistan in 1994 to escape criminal charges, which he maintains were politically motivated, and was sentenced in absentia to 15 1/2 years in jail as a terrorist and Islamist extremist for alleged involvement in a series of explosions in the Uzbek capital Tashkent in 1999 that killed 16 people in an apparent assassination attempt on Karimov. The New York-based organization Human Rights Watch said in a statement on 29 November that it had monitored his trial in Uzbekistan and judged that no "material evidence of Solih's guilt was presented." Solih was traveling from his home in Norway, where he was granted political asylum two years ago, to the Czech Republic to give an interview to RFE/RL when he was detained at Prague airport. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Russian human rights organization Memorial, the U.S. Congress' Helsinki Commission, the Norwegian government, and RFE/RL are among the groups that have called on the Czech Republic to release Solih, who they warn could be tortured or executed if returned to Uzbekistan. On 30 October, a Prague court decided after a closed-door hearing to continue to hold Solih until it reviewed the extradition documentation from Tashkent, which by Czech law must arrive in 40 days or the prisoner will be freed automatically (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2001). Meanwhile Solih might ask for political asylum in the Czech Republic, CTK news agency reported on 30 November. Some observers have expressed worries that Western governments, perhaps in recognition of President Karimov's help in conducting the campaign in Afghanistan, will do little to assist his gravest political rival and thus ignore Solih's plight. Nonetheless, Solih's Czech lawyer said last week that she felt Solih's chances to be released were good (see "Uzbekistan:
Opposition Leader Awaits Decision On Possible Extradition," rferl.org, 4 December 2001). In a parallel case, 43-year-old Uzbek poet and member of the banned Birlik ("Unity") movement Yusuf Jumaev was arrested in his native Bukhara Province on 23 October and accused of religious extremism, according to the latest briefing on his situation from the Central Asian Human Rights Information Network on 4 December. Jumaev was charged with spreading sedition in conversations with people in his village and calling for the "forcible overthrow of the constitutional government" in poems and notes discovered in his house by the police, the Information Network reported. There is concern that signatures from his neighbors on documents testifying to Jumaev's radical view are being coerced by the police. As for the allegedly seditious tenor of his poetry, such lines as "How long will a stupid person remain at the head of the country?/ Until the day of resurrection and Islamic judgment!" do not suggest the rabid rantings of a religious revolutionary, the briefing notes. They may hint, however, at why President Karimov's regime is intent on painting him as one.


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