A prominent Uzbek dissident, Mohammed Solih, was arrested in Prague yesterday for a politically motivated conviction in Uzbekistan and faces extradition, Human Rights Watch said today. Solih had traveled to Prague on an invitation from U.S. Radio Free Europe.

Human Rights Watch today called on Czech authorities to refuse Uzbekistan's extradition request, release Solih immediately, and guarantee his security while in the Czech Republic.

"This is a matter of life and death for Mr. Solih," said Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division. "The Czech government has got to act now to refuse the extradition request and release him."

Solih is chairman of the Erk Democratic Party, a political opposition group now banned in Uzbekistan. He was the only genuinely independent candidate to challenge Uzbek President Islam Karimov in the 1991 presidential elections. Following the elections, Uzbek authorities harassed and repeatedly detained him. Fearing arrest on dubious charges, he fled the country.

On November 28, Czech police detained Solih at passport control, on an Interpol extradition request placed by Uzbek authorities. He is currently in preliminary custody. Tomorrow the Prague City Court will hold a hearing to determine whether to go forward with extradition proceedings.

In November 2000, the Supreme Court of Uzbekistan sentenced Solih in absentia to a 15-year prison term on charges of terrorism and anti-state activities. Human Rights Watch monitored the trial, and found it reminiscent in all respects of Soviet-era show trials. No material evidence of Solih's guilt was presented. Nine of Solih's co-defendants also received lengthy terms in prison, and two other men, sentenced in absentia in the same trial, were sentenced to death. Uzbekistan continues to execute condemned prisoners. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances.

Three of Mr. Solih's brothers-Komil, Muhammad, and Rashid Bekjonov-are currently serving sentences ranging from 10 to 15 years on politically motivated charges, reflecting the Uzbek government's program to arrest relatives of those labeled "enemies of the people." According to a human rights activist who served time in prison along with Rashid and Muhammad Bekjonov, the brothers have been subjected to particularly harsh treatment, including repeated torture, by prison authorities.