We write to express our profound concern about the detention by Czech authorities of Omonillo Maksudov and Zohid Mirzaev, both recognized refugees from Uzbekistan residing in Germany. We understand that Czech border police arrested Maksudov and Mirzaev pursuant to an Interpol warrant based on an extradition request posted by the Uzbek government, following their entry into the Czech Republic on July 2.
Maksudov and Mirzaev are among the hundreds of Uzbeks who became refugees in the aftermath of the Uzbek government massacre of hundreds of mostly unarmed protesters as they fled a demonstration in the eastern city of Andijan in May 2005. They subsequently endured many difficult months in Kyrgyzstan, living in constant fear of being returned to risk of torture and other severe abuses in Uzbekistan, before being resettled to safety in Germany, where they have resided since October 2005.
Uzbek authorities have steadfastly denied any responsibility for the Andijan killings, for which—more than two years later—no one has been held to account. To hide the truth behind the massacre and create its own version of events, the government engaged in a massive cover-up effort, a cornerstone of which was its aggressive drive to pursue the forced return of many of those who fled the country following the massacre. As a result of this drive, many Andijan-related refugees became the subject of Uzbek government-posted, politically-motivated extradition requests, and now have their names appear in the Interpol’s registry.
As a member state of the European Union, which has had targeted sanctions in force against the Uzbek government since October 2005 specifically for Tashkent’s role in the massacre and subsequent cover-up, the Czech government should have known better than to proceed with detaining Maksudov and Mirzaev simply because they appeared on an Interpol list as being sought by the Uzbek government. Given the Uzbek government’s notorious and well-documented record of politically-motivated persecution, which dates back to well before the Andijan events, any arrest warrant originating from Tashkent should be viewed with skepticism. That this is so became painfully evident in late 2001, in connection with another embarrassing and wrongful detention of an Uzbek citizen by Czech authorities—Mohammed Solih— a well-known dissident who enjoys political asylum in Norway. After a court in Prague heard Solih’s case and promptly dismissed the Uzbek government’s extradition request, Solih was received by then-President Vaclav Havel who publicly recognized him as “a man unjustly accused.”
Given this recent history, it is all the more shocking that Maksudov and Mirzaev were detained and that Maksudov should remain in detention more than two weeks after his arrest. Even taking into account the possibility that they lacked proper travel documentation to enter the Czech Republic, since both men are demonstrably legal residents in Germany, we fail to comprehend why they were not simply sent back to Germany, instead of being placed in prolonged detention in the Czech Republic.
We understand that the Interpol arrest warrant derives from allegations that Maksudov and Mirzaev were involved in the May 12-13 armed uprising in Andijan that preceeded the demonstrations and massacre. We also understand that on July 4 the Plzen District Court ruled that the men should remain in detention until Tashkent provides further documentation about their supposed crimes, which in turn will provide the basis for a ruling on the Uzbek government’s extradition request. We further understand that an appeal of this decision will be heard by a higher court in the near future. We believe it is unreasonable for any court to rely on government documentation of crimes from the Uzbek government in light of its record of fabrication and persecution.
The Uzbek government has convicted more than 250 people in connection with the Andijan events, all but fifteen in closed proceedings. These trials must be assumed to have been unfair and aimed not at establishing true accountability for the uprising and the massacre by government troops that followed but at continuing the government’s cover-up of the latter. As noted above, the government has demanded the return of numerous refugees who fled Andijan, branding nearly all of those who participated in the demonstrations as “militants” and “criminals.” It is incomprehensible why, given these circumstances, the Czech authorities are handling the current extradition proceedings as though they were based on “normal,” standard extradition requests. Maksudov and Mirzaev should never have been detained in the first place based solely on Uzbek government allegations. Their continued detention—Maksudov’s until yesterday—is an embarrassment to any rights-respecting government—and especially to a government that is as well-informed as the Czech Republic about the Uzbek government’s human rights record.
We urge you to bring an immediate end to Maksudov and Mirzaev’s ordeal by ensuring Maksudov’s prompt release and both men’s safe return to Germany.
We further urge you to work towards seeing to it that Maksudov and Mirzaev’s names are removed from the Interpol registry, so that they no longer need to fear being subjected to similar wrongful detention in the future. Such measures should also be undertaken with respect to the many other Uzbeks against whom the Uzbek government has posted politically-motivated arrest warrants. In the interim, we ask that the Czech Republic work with its EU partners to ensure an EU policy whereby any extradition request originating from the Uzbek government is handled with extreme skepticism, and safeguards are in place to protect individuals such as Maksudov and Mirzaev from further abuse.
Europe and Central Asia Division
Minister of Justice Jiří Pospíšil
Minister of Foreign Affairs Karel Schwarzenberg
Chief Prosecutor Renáta Vesecká