RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, known locally as Ozodlik, has learned from sources that Akram Yudashev, the imprisoned leader of the Akramiya religious group, died in prison five years ago.
Yuldashev had not been seen since late 2005. International rights groups had repeatedly called on Uzbek authorities to provide information about Yuldashev, his location and condition, but Uzbek authorities routinely ignored these requests.
Ozodlik spoke to sources on January 11 who confirmed Yuldashev had died of tuberculosis in prison some five years ago, though the sources could not provide an exact date or the location of the facility where Yuldashev was being held.
Akram Yuldashev rose to prominence in the mid-1990s as a religious leader in the area around the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon. Yuldshev authored a book titled Iymonga Yol (The Path To Faith) in which Yuldashev related his religious and philosophical ideas. Yuldashev wrote the book after becoming disillusioned with the now-banned Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir and parting ways with the sect.
His stature as a community and religious leader grew in his native Andijon region. During this time, Yuldashev worked as a math teacher and later in a textile plant.
In 1998, he was arrested on charges of narcotics possession and jailed for 30 months. However, he fell under an amnesty instituted by Uzbek authorities some months later and was freed.
On February 16, 1999, a series of bombs exploded in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, regarded as the first-ever terrorist attack in Uzbekistan. Yuldashev was arrested the next day and later tried and convicted of involvement in the Tashkent bombings. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison.
In the spring of 2005, demonstrations started in Andijon against the jailing of a group of local businessmen. These businessmen were acquaintances of Yuldashev. The appointments of new provincial and city officials some months earlier had upset the established system of patronage in the region and the businessmen had not only lost their enterprises but were in danger of losing their freedom as well.
On May 13, 2005, an armed group crossed from Kyrgyzstan into Uzbekistan, attacked a police station, stole weapons, then went to a prison near Andijon and freed the prisoners. Those prisoners mixed with the demonstrators in Andijon and violence broke out.
Uzbek authorities sent in troops to restore order and a bloodbath ensued.
Authorities blamed a group called Akramiya, followers of the imprisoned Yuldashev, for provoking the violence. Though he had been in prison for some six years, Yuldashev was branded as an instigator of the violence and appeared in court on charges of attempting to overthrow the government.
Yuldashev's trial appearances in late 2005 were the last times anyone outside the government ever saw him. His fate has remained a mystery until now.
In the 10 years since Yuldashev was last seen, his family has tried to get information about Yuldashev's fate. Some members of the family fled to the United States and engaged legal aid and lobbyists to press the Uzbek government to divulge information about their imprisoned kinsman, all without result.
International rights groups such as U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) repeatedly released statements calling on Uzbekistan's government to provide some information about Yuldashev.
HRW's Steve Swerdlow reminded RFE/RL that his organization had issued a report on September 15, 2014, titled Until The Very End, which chronicled the incarcerations of 34 people. Swerdlow said Uzbek authorities provided some information about 33 of those 34 people. Yuldashev was the one person about whom Uzbek officials did not comment.
It now appears all these efforts during the last five years were in vain. The person all the people and groups were seeking information about was dead.
Uzbek authorities have still not commented on Yuldashev's reported death.
Ozodlik's Shukhrat Babajanov contributed to this report