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Czech Republic: Uzbek Dissident Released In Prague

Prague, 11 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Uzbek dissident Mohammad Solih has been released from jail in Prague, where he was being held on an international arrest warrant. Solih, the leader of the banned Uzbek opposition party Erk, is staying in Prague until a court decides whether to grant a request by Uzbekistan to extradite him to the Central Asian country.

Solih said the criminal case against him has been fabricated by the Uzbek government, and he told RFE/RL after his release today that he looks forward to bringing his case before a court in Prague.

Speaking at a news conference at RFE/RL headquarters in Prague, Solih added that if the Czech Republic decides to extradite him to Uzbekistan, it will be a signal from Western nations that they stand on the side of Central Asia's dictators and not its people.

"The question is very simple: Who does the West support in Central Asia, dictators or democrats? As you see, there is no place for ambiguity in this question," he said.

Solih said the Czech Republic, as a Western nation, had a responsibility to show Uzbek leader Islam Karimov that he could not hide behind the slogan of antiterrorism in order to crush dissent.

Solih was detained by the Czech authorities at Prague's Ruzyne airport on an international arrest warrant issued by Interpol at the initiative of the Uzbek government. The Uzbek government has alleged that Solih is linked to bombings committed by Islamic militants in Tashkent in February 1999. Solih has not been in Uzbekistan since 1994, but was tried and sentenced in absentia last year to 15 and a half years imprisonment.

A Czech court must now decide on his fate. The Norwegian government -- where Solih was granted political asylum -- and many non-governmental organizations have called for his being allowed to return to Norway.

Solih has been invited to meet Czech President Vaclav Havel tomorrow. He pledged to remain in the Czech Republic until the outcome of his case is decided.