Rights groups: extradition would be "death sentence" for Uzbek dissident

03-12-2001

Mukhammed Salikh in January 2001 - Oslo, photo CTKMukhammed Salikh in January 2001 - Oslo, photo CTK Mukhammed Salikh is the exiled leader of the Erk or Freedom Party. He fled Uzbekistan in 1993, two years after an unsuccessful challenge against Islam Karimov in the country's presidential elections. The Uzbek authorities claim Mr Salikh masterminded a series of bomb attacks in the Uzbek capital Tashkent, and last year sentenced him in absentia to 15 years in prison. Mr Salikh denies the charges, and says President Karimov fixed the elections.

The Uzbek dissident had come to Prague on an invitation from the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe. Sonia Winter is the station's spokeswoman.

"Mr Salikh has been known to us for many years. He was a presidential candidate, and heads the opposition party - which is not able to function properly as an opposition party in Uzbekistan. Mr Salikh is living in exile - now in Norway, and has appeared many times on our programmes as an outspoken critic of the government in Uzbekistan and a defender of human rights."

President Karimov, who has run the country since Soviet times, accuses Mr Salikh's banned Freedom party of fostering a "terrorist" campaign, aimed at creating a fundamentalist Islamic republic. But the Freedom party, which says it wants multi-party democracy for Uzbekistan, denies the charges. Norway has rejected three extradition requests, saying he could face torture or even death at the hands of the Uzbek authorities. Sonia Winter says his case is supported by several leading human rights organisations.

"Mr Salikh is being endorsed by half a dozen leading human rights organisations, including the United Nations, the Helsinki Commission in Washington and Human Rights Watch in New York. I believe he's very well known to the human rights community as a bona fide opposition leader who is working for democracy."

The Prague court's decision to remand him in custody is only the start of a lengthy extradition process, and Mr Salikh is planning to apply for political asylum in the Czech Republic. Radio Free Europe spokeswoman Sonia Winter says such is the reputation of the Uzbek authorities, Prague is almost certain to turn down this latest request for his extradition.

"I don't think we would ever see him again, if he were to sent Uzbekistan. I think the nature of the regime there, and the record they have on human rights would mean that he would meet with an awful fate."

03-12-2001