Dissident Uzbek held on return

Dissident Uzbek held on return

ALMATY - Reuters
Dissident Uzbek held on return

The first prominent dissident to return to Uzbekistan since the death of its long-time leader was detained on arrival on Sept. 27, putting under scrutiny efforts by its new president to show the country in a more liberal light.

Uzbek police took writer Nurulloh Muhammad Raufkhon, 62, away in handcuffs after he landed at Tashkent airport, his wife told Reuters.

She said a police officer told her that banned material - which could refer to audio or video recordings as well as literature - had been found at their house, and advised her to hire a lawyer.

Raufkhon had been in self-imposed exile in Turkey since spring 2016, when he was placed on a security blacklist after publishing a book that criticized former leader Islam Karimov.

Karimov, held responsible by Western governments for systematic human rights violations during his 25 years in power, died last September.

His successor, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, has sought to present himself as a more liberal leader, and this month Raufkhon told Reuters that he would soon return home.

In an open letter to Mirziyoyev last week, Raufkhon said his safe return would “suit the country which is reassuring itself in front of the world community as free and fair since you came to power.”

Raufkhon, 62, is the first prominent dissident to return to Uzbekistan, a mainly Muslim ex-Soviet state which borders Afghanistan, following Karimov’s death.

His wife, Gulnara Otakhonova, said by telephone that she and their son had waited for several hours at the airport before seeing Raufkhon escorted outside in handcuffs, to be taken to a police station.

She said police only told her where they were taking Raufkhon, without explaining the reason for his detention or allowing her to talk to him.