(Prague, Czech Republic--December 14, 2001) RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine today applauded the decision of the Prague Municipal Court not to extradite Uzbek human rights activist Mohammad Salih to Uzbekistan.
Dine said "this is a victory for justice and the rule of law," noting that Salih's case has set a precedent for the Czech legal system. "The process of reform and democratization in post-communist states will accelerate if the voices of people like Mr. Salikh can be heard loud and clear," he said.
Salih has been interviewed many times on RFE/RL programs transmitted to Central Asia and was invited to visit RFE/RL's Prague Broadcast Center. But he was detained on arrival at Prague's Ruzyne Airport on November 28 on the basis of an Interpol warrant. His detention attracted international attention with calls for his release by the Norwegian government -- where Salih was granted political asylum -- and many non-governmental organizations,including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Helsinki Federation. Dine also wrote to the Prague Court vouching for Salih's character and urging that he not be returned to Uzbekistan.
Salih, speaking to reporters outside the courtroom, said the two weeks he spent in extradition custody in a Czech prison served a good cause. "The world now knows a little bit more about the human rights abuses in Uzbekistan," he said.
A former political leader in Uzbekistan, Salih was an independent candidate in Uzbekistan's 1991 presidential election which was won by Islam Karimov. Uzbek authorities began a campaign of harassment against Salih, arresting him several times and he was forced to flee the country in 1993. Since then, Salih has in exile headed the ERK opposition party and become an internationally recognized human rights activist and political authority on Uzbek affairs. In 2000, the Uzbek Supreme Court convicted him in absentia to 15 years and six months of imprisonment for alleged terrorism and activities against the Uzbek State at a trial declared unfair and unconvincing by Human Rights Watch and other international monitors. Salih was granted political asylum in Norway and has been living there since 1999. The Uzbek government requested his extradition four times and was denied each time by the Norwegian government.