Muhiddin Saifulloev fled Uzbekistan 13 years ago to evade accusations, which he says were false, that he was involved in religiously motivated crimes.
Eventually, the accusations landed him on a notorious yet secretive blacklist of potential extremists maintained by the country's police, ensuring that he would stay abroad.
But with a change of leadership came a change of heart for Saifulloev, who told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service by telephone from Egypt that, "Now I want to go back home, to Uzbekistan."
Before he could seriously consider returning home, however, Saifulloev needed assurances that he would be given the chance to clear his name. And now, in the form of a "Letter Of Guarantee" from local police and a note from a district police chief, he has them.
Saifulloev received the "guarantee", signed and sealed by the police station in his home district of Kattaqurghon, in Samarkand Province, after seeking clarity on his situation from the office of President Shavkat Mirziyoev, who has exuded an air of increased openness since succeeding his authoritarian predecessor, Islam Karimov, in late 2016.
Following his election in December of that year, the Uzbek government has relaxed positions on combating religious extremism in the majority Muslim country, among other things. Mirziyoev ordered the removal of 16,000 names on the secretive blacklist of potential religious extremists, and ordered authorities to review the cases of those imprisoned on religiously motivated charges.
Mirziyoev also urged local governments and religious officials to help reintegrate to normal life those who were released from prison and removed from the black list.
Saifulloev says he saw the moves as an opportunity to clear his name.
"I wrote to the president's virtual office about my situation," Saifulloev says."My letter was apparently forwarded to Kattaqurghon police who wrote me that they reviewed my case."
Letter Of Guarantee
The letter of guarantee, a copy of which was obtained by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service and was dated February 26, confirms that Saifulloev has been wanted by police since 2012 for "crimes against national stability and security."
However, the letter says Saifulloev would not be arrested if he returned to Uzbekistan voluntarily.
In the second letter, a copy of which was received by RFE/RL and was dated March 28, district police chief A. C. Otamurodov wrote that a review of Saifulloev's case had concluded there were no "elements of crime" for opening a criminal process against him. It did say, however, that Saifulloev was currently wanted for questioning regarding his "involvement in religious extremist movements."
Saifulloev, a native of Samarkand Province, says he fled to Egypt after Uzbek authorities accused him of religiously motivated crimes; later his name was placed on the blacklist of potential extremists.
Saifulloev acknowledged that he might still face trial in Uzbekistan, but insists he hasn't committed any crime and has no links to any religious extremist movement.
"Kattaqurghon police department told my relatives that 'if Saifulloev returns voluntarily, we would either interrogate him and drop the charges or he would stand a trial to be cleared by court,'" Saifulloev said.
Uzbekistan has imprisoned thousands of people in the past two decades, accusing them of being Islamic extremists. Right groups say there were many innocent victims among them, targeted merely for being practicing Muslims.
Some 17,000 more were reportedly placed on the security services' blacklist of suspected extremists. Being on the list meant not being able to leave the country or get jobs in the public sector.
In many cases, people didn't know they were on the list until they tried to travel abroad.
Saifulloev says he made several phone calls to Kattaqurghon district authorities, while his relatives in Uzbekistan paid several visits to the police department to discuss Saifulloev's return home.
"Every time, the officials' response was positive. They encouraged me to come back home," Saifulloev says. "The neighborhood committee, too, was very supportive."
The press office of Samarkand provincial government have reported all but 122 people on the 1,749-strong blacklist maintained in the province have been removed in recent months "after the president's appeal."
"They were given opportunities to find their place in society," the press office said. According to the press office, the remaining 122 people are mostly based abroad and their cases are under review.
In a meeting in March, Samarkand governor Turob Juraev urged Samarkand natives who left Uzbekistan after facing religiously motivated charges to return home.