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Uzbek Opposition Leader's Brother Sentenced To Five More Years

Jailed Uzbek opposition figure Muhammad Bekjon
The mystery over why the brother of a prominent Uzbek opposition figure was not released from prison as scheduled has been solved -- he is serving an additional five-year term.

Muhammad Bekjon, 58, a brother of self-exiled Erk (Freedom) party leader Muhammad Solih, was expected to be released from a labor camp in Uzbekistan's southern Qashqadariyo Province in December, capping more than a decade of incarceration on terrorism charges.

Bekjon, who was a member of the Erk party and editor of its official newspaper, was sentenced in August 1999 to 15 years in prison on a variety of charges relating to a series of bomb attacks that took place in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, that year.

His sentence was eventually reduced by more than three years and he was scheduled for release on December 13, according to Nina Bekjon, his wife.

She explained that she traveled from the United States, where she now resides, to Uzbekistan to reunite with her husband.

But her husband was never released and the Uzbek authorities have given no official explanation for this.

"I was sure that he would be released," she said. "[Another] brother went there [to meet him at the prison gates]. He arrived there in the evening and Muhammad was expected to be released in the morning. [Prison guards] told him that all documents were ready for his release."

However, she said that, when the brother arrived at the scheduled time the next morning, neither the prison guards nor Bekjon appeared.

After weeks of uncertainty over what had happened to Bekjon, his lawyer eventually informed relatives on January 23 that a mobile court had held hearings at the labor camp over the weekend of January 21-22 and found Bekjon guilty of beating three other inmates.

As a result, Bekjon was sentenced to an additional five years in jail.

Solih Remains Defiant

Muhammad Bekjon's brother Muhammad Solih was the sole challenger to Islam Karimov in independent Uzbekistan's first presidential elections in 1991.

He fled the country in 1993 while facing charges of high treason.

Following the Tashkent bombings of 1999, for which Bekjon and another brother were sentenced, Solih was sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison.

He now lives under asylum in Norway, but continues to be considered one of Karimov's most serious challengers. The Erk party Solih founded has been unregistered since 1992.

In a telephone interview on January 25, Solih characterized Bekjon's new sentence as "the continuation of Uzbek authorities' evil deeds lasting for years."

"By this [action] Karimov is trying to break the will of those men and women who have been fighting for a better life for the Uzbek nation for many years," Solih said.

Solih maintained that he would never change his political standpoint and will continue his political activities abroad.

"I do not have any intention of changing my political views because of this situation," he said. "We will continue our political activities as we have been doing before."

Nina Bekjon says she has filed papers requesting permission to visit her husband in the labor camp but has not yet received a response from authorities.

with reporting by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service