Accessibility links

Breaking News

Uzbekistan: Imprisoned In Prague, Dissident Solih Issues Statement To Czech People

Mohammad Solih, the leading Uzbek opposition leader who was arrested in Prague last week on a warrant issued by Interpol at the behest of Uzbek authorities, wrote this "Letter to the People of Prague" from his jail cell at Pankrac prison, where he is awaiting a decision by Czech authorities on whether he will be extradited to Uzbekistan or released from custody. The letter was given exclusively to RFE/RL, the organization that invited him to Prague to take part in roundtable discussions on the situation in Uzbekistan. Here is the letter in its entirety: Prague, 3 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Of all the political leaders of the 20th century I have the most respect for President Nelson Mandela of South Africa and President Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic. In a way, they have both always reconciled things that are impossible to reconcile; they have always been symbols of high moral values in politics.

These two politicians valued the freedom of their peoples more than their own freedom while never advertising this quality, never taking advantage of their images; they never became populists. When I came to Prague, invited by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, I did not expect for a minute that it would be here, in the free country of Vaclav Havel, that I would be arrested.

I do not have the strength to describe the level of lawlessness in my country. Imagine that every citizen of the country lives in constant fear of the state; that he or she can be arrested now, in one hour, or tomorrow. And nobody even knows what he or she can be arrested for. They feel guilty even without having committed a crime. Just like a Kafka character. There are 25 million people living in Uzbekistan. It is a gigantic gallery of Kafka characters. It is my beloved people.

Bertolt Brecht once said: "I will tell you about my disgrace, then you tell me about yours." So let me tell you about mine, if you will excuse me. All those people who stood up against the repression, against the state, have been immediately crushed or made to leave their country.

I left my country. I loved it just like Vaclav Havel loves his Czech Republic. However, I left it to save my life; I thought that it would be needed for the work in the name of our ideals that we have been cherishing even during Soviet times, in the name of human freedom, human thought, and our nation.

Alas, I did not succeed. I was not able to use the saved life as well as I had hoped to. It has been eight years since I left Uzbekistan and there has not been one day that I was not persecuted by the Uzbek authorities. No matter what country I stayed in, I was immediately "identified" and "declassified" and the country that had accepted me was bombarded with notes of protest by the Uzbek Foreign Ministry. I was deported from Turkey four times in three years. I was deported every time before [Uzbek President Islam Karimov's] visit to Ankara and before the president of a Mediterranean country's visit to Tashkent. In other words, for both leaders your humble servant was the subject of a fine gesture, good manners. For five years my family and I were knocking around the world and finally, in 1998, we addressed the United Nations seeking political asylum and were accepted by Norway. Norway, incidentally, did not have any "geopolitical interests" in Uzbekistan and did not buy Uzbek cotton. I thanked God when we moved to Oslo in 1999. Uzbekistan did not overlook that and Norway received a note of protest too. Moreover, the Uzbek authorities demanded my extradition as "terrorist number one," to which the Norwegian government replied with due dignity: "No!" The paperwork sent by the Uzbek branch of Interpol did not convince the Norwegian authorities that I was a terrorist, but on the contrary, that I was a victim of terror, a victim of state terror, of the state that has destroyed the best sons of my nation in the last eight years and is still continuing to do that. Some 8,000 political prisoners are tortured in the prisons of Uzbekistan now. This number comes from official statistics, while human rights activists suppose that the real number of political prisoners doubles that. Among those prisoners are my three brothers. They were sentenced to 15 years of hard labor only because they were my family. They are now being tortured and humiliated by the local law enforcement authorities.

The famous Uzbek writer Mamadali Makhmudov also got a 15-year term of hard labor. Those butchers have mutilated him beyond recognition to make him foully slander me. During his trial, Mamadali Makhmudov confessed that he had testified against [me] while being tortured. Mamadali Makhmudov is my friend; he was punished because he had been to Ukraine in 1998 to see me. They called him "a terrorist" because he knows me. I am called "a terrorist" because four years ago in Istanbul I met with Tahir Yuldashev, an Uzbek emigre who is now the leader of an armed Uzbek opposition group. In 1997, when I first met him, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan did not exist and Yuldashev was of no significance to anybody. As many other emigres did, he often visited all the Uzbek families who lived in Istanbul. But the February 1999 explosions in Tashkent brought this unknown man to the front pages of the world's newspapers. The Uzbek president considered those explosions murderous assaults aimed at assassinating him. Three days later the president announced to the rest of the world that Muhammad Solih was one of the instigators of the explosions.

It was 1999, and the parliamentary and presidential elections were coming up. Representatives of Erk, the party headed by me and the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), discussed the upcoming elections and the possibility of the return of the opposition leaders to Uzbekistan. That worried the Uzbek government -- something had to be done. It has been quite common to discredit the political opposition to prevent it from taking part in elections, to make sure there is no competition. Thus, before the 1995 elections I was accused of stealing an antique coin from a museum and preparing 19 people for a coup d'etat. We were not allowed to participate in the elections. Then I spoke on Radio Liberty and asked the president of Uzbekistan: "What kind of a state is it that one can turn it upside down with the help of 19 young men?" The president, of course, didn't answer this question but was pleased with the result of the elections with no opposition involved. The president elected himself and those obedient to him. In the meantime the authorities brought up that antique coin again. The trial was quite a success, the opposition was seemingly disgraced. Why would I have hidden the coin[Illegible, a line from the original fax missing here.]

This is how I have become a "terrorist." I was arrested at the passport control of the Prague airport. I came to this beautiful city on the invitation of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The day before my arrival to Prague I took part in a seminar of the International Crisis Group in Brussels and also visited the Central Asia Commission of the European Parliament, where we actually discussed the problems of terrorism. I hate terror. No matter where it comes from, no matter what goal is behind it, I hate terror. I hate it because it nurses fear. It cultivates fear in people's hearts, in their minds. And fear is the most abominable, the most humiliating feeling for a human being.

Our party Erk was the first party to condemn the terrorist act of 16 February in Tashkent. I condemn it today, too: Cursed shall be those who committed this act, those who stand behind this act of terror! I cannot say with full certainty that this act was organized by the authorities themselves, because the executors of the explosions are in fact close to Tahir Yuldashev. However, what arouses suspicion is the fact that six vehicles loaded with explosives can drive to the center of the city and then are left in six different places where each and every meter is controlled by the police and special services. And then, if that was an attempt to assassinate one person, the president, why did they blow up in different places and with different time intervals?

When I was accused of a coup attempt in 1995 I was shocked, but when I was accused of being one of the organizers of this bloody act I was infuriated by this blatant insult, because it is only people of no principles, cynical and godless people, who commit acts of terror, only those who think their goal justifies their means. Terror is the method of the Soviet communists, whom I have hated all my conscious life. That is why I feel so insulted by this accusation.

The Uzbek government has brought eight lawsuits against me up to now -- all of them having been completely fabricated -- all of them nothing but slander. But why have only two of them been sent to the Czech Republic? Did they think that these two cases were more believable than the others? Even if so, they are out of luck, because all of the so-called witnesses withdrew their testimony against me, having said that they had given their statements under torture of Uzbek investigators.

I am writing this now feeling slightly irritated. I do not like being my own advocate. I will let people think and make their own conclusions. I do not want to influence the way the trial will go, because I know that the Czech Republic is a jural state that respects [the rule of] law. I hope that I will not be sent back to the jaws of the totalitarian monster. Maybe it is even good that my misfortune will let the legal elite of Prague see the face of this monster.

I am an optimist but I do not rule out the worst possibility. They still can send me back. It would be the worst thing that could happen to me. Then I would have to prepare myself for death, I can say that with 100-percent certainty. In April this year they tried to kill me but by God's will I remained alive. They put $2 million on stake, of which 135,000 were paid in advance to the killers they hired, but God messed up their cards once again. This operation was led by Colonel Mahmud Khaitov, director of the Uzbek branch of Interpol on the order of the Uzbek Interior Minister Zakir Almatov. They reported on the progress of the plan to the president of the Republic of Uzbekistan. This case, like a detective story, stirred up interest in the Russian media.

The famous "Our Version: Classified Confidential" TV show host Mikhail Markelov made a 30-minute documentary about it, and it was shown on Russian television on 27 May of this year. As soon as the documentary was shown on TV, Khaitov, the Uzbek Interpol director, was dismissed from his position because his voice was heard in the report talking on the telephone about the rest of the money for the assassination. The voices that were not heard in the film kept their positions. I showed the film to Norwegian journalists and they asked me: "How can the Interpol director be involved in organizing an assassination?" Yes, he can, in our country. In our country ministers can be involved in these kind of activities, and not only ministers -- but those who issues orders to ministers too.

Do people at Interpol headquarters in Lyon know about it? Do they know who is who? I suppose they don't, otherwise I would not have been arrested at the Prague airport. I never wanted to, but now I do want to get into a "Who is Who?" book. It does not have to be as a "poet" or a "party leader." [Such a thing would not] work for the police, I know it. I just need a caption under my photo saying: "Such and such is not a terrorist." These are the values of the new era. Is it a privilege now to be considered a terrorist? Has terror occupied so much territory in our lives? Are we doomed to look at every stranger or any foreigner like we would at a potential terrorist? Last year I published my book of memoirs and as the epigraph I chose these words by Andre Malraux: "The 21st century will either be spiritual or it will not be." Now I'm afraid that Malraux's prophecy will not come true. The 21st century is starting with the globalization of terror and the fight against it. It is not only the globalization of terror but the globalization of the fight against it that also frightens me, because the dictators like ours, in the shade of this slogan, legitimize terror against their people, humiliate human rights and free thought, more freely dispose of their opponents with only one excuse -- the fight against terrorism.

When President Bush said that he was going to eradicate terrorism, to tear it up by its roots, we were happy, because we thought we would show him where those roots were. I even wrote a special article on this topic. The roots of terrorism are in the political regime currently existing in our country. The so-called Wahhabi Movement emerged in Uzbekistan as a reaction to brutal repression against the religious part of the population.

Juma Namangani's armed group [the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan] is the mirror of the totalitarian rule of the president of Uzbekistan. Terror can only be born of terror, just like a man can be born of man. If the Uzbek president had not been busy destroying the democratic opposition for years, the political life of the country would not have the vacuum that it has and is now being filled with such radical groups.

So the "roots of terrorism" are quite transparent. When these roots are torn out is only a matter of a political situation and current conditions. We'll wait, we'll see. Despite the grim tone, I am hoping for better times, making plans for better days. However, I did remove the epigraph from Malraux from the Turkish translation of my book. I don't know why, it just happened that way. Maybe the epigraph sounded a bit too optimistic. Or maybe too categorical: "The 21st century will either be spiritual or it will not be."

Mohammad Solih (signed)